starring Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, J.K. Simmons
screenplay by Peter Straughan and Hossein Amini and Søren Sveistrup, based on the novel by Jo Nesbø
directed by Tomas Alfredson
by Walter Chaw Tomas Alfredson's The Snowman, an adaptation of the seventh in Jo Nesbø's literary crime series, treats its narrative as gestural performance art: a suggestion of a suggestion of genre. When it's fascinating, it operates with a certain dream logic, where one thing leads to another thing senselessly, nightmarishly, the dreamer buoyed along powerless to affect his own fate within the larger, obscure narrative. Harrison Ford famously complained that Blade Runner is a movie about a detective who doesn't do any detecting. The Snowman is a movie about a detective who can't do any detecting because there isn't any connective tissue. No matter what the teasing notes left by its serial killer claim, there are no clues. It's very much like Andrew Fleming's own abortive attempt at a franchise, Nancy Drew, which is also alien in its behaviour, acting like a movie would act if it were made by a sea cucumber. Consider a scene in The Snowman that pushes the story to its conclusion: there's a revelation, a key piece of evidence or something, and a location, and the heroine, Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson), stands up at her desk. A male colleague, who was sitting in a cubicle across from Katrine, suddenly teleports to the balcony above her as she leaves. He asks if she's all right. The better question would be if there was so little footage shot that every bit of it was used, continuity be damned. The great Thelma Schoonmaker was brought in at the eleventh hour, presumably at the behest of executive producer Martin Scorsese (once slated to direct the film), in a presumed attempt to save the project. Schoonmaker, for everything she's great at, was never that great at continuity under the best of circumstances. Something Scorsese played around with in Shutter Island. Something that occasionally turns The Snowman into a Gertrude Stein piece.
There are three timelines in The Snowman: the first giving backstory, suggesting the film is the result of a bad experience trying to learn Norwegian civics; the second featuring one of the strangest performances of the century by an ailing Val Kilmer as another alcoholic detective; the last featuring Harry and Katrine and a twist that isn't actually a twist because there's no plot to support it. The Snowman is stunningly incompetent in a way only possible when everyone involved is brilliant and accomplished. It's like the Titanic becoming the most ironic metaphor for hubris in the modern era. Movies this bad come along as a result of great arrogance--the idea that no matter how little preparation there was, or care in the adaptation, or time and money afforded in post-production, the result would be good. The last scene in the film, set on a frozen lake, is as unbelievably gorgeous as the action--Harry getting gunned down with Looney Tunes abruptness--is unbelievably silly. The Snowman is a pratfall by the prima ballerina of the Bolshoi. It's not without interest, and it deserves every ounce of the opprobrium it's attracted. In the final calculation, all its unintentional hilarity and boredom aside, it's not an altogether terrible adaptation of the Wallace Stevens poem "The Snow Man"--which is also not, as it happens, a good detective movie.