(1997)2Derek ArmstrongIn Smilla's Sense of Snow, director Bille August presents the type of atmospheric locale that's suited to an exotic mystery, then abandons the promising setup by dishing out a below-average thriller that eventually resembles a farfetched spy movie. In fact, the industry term "third act problems" seems to fit this film perfectly, since its first hour is both arty and auspicious. August bathes the Danish port city setting in icy blues, casting the kind of spell necessary for a tale about a boy who appears to have been chased to death off the top of a building, leaving only his ghostly accelerating footsteps through the snow to mark the crime. Julia Ormond both mirrors the frigid environment and heightens it, watching everyone through untrusting eyes and exhibiting the kind of steely will that makes for a marvelous role. She picks through the spooky details using a variety of underworld methods worthy of The X-Files, and the movie is suffused with a delightful sense of distrust and disorientation. But as the mysteries reveal themselves in unfulfilling ways, the icy hinterlands get decidedly warmed over. By the denouement, set in Greenland, the all too ordinary big-business conspiracy plot has degenerated into a shoot-'em-up. The viewer is likelier to remember the clumsy product placements (everyone is wearing a North Face jacket during the final scene) than the fact that this movie began with a heck of a lot of promise.