The Snowman, based on Jo Nesbø's international best-selling novel, should have been a top-notch mystery thriller. Aside from its strong source material, the movie boasts a first-rate cast that includes Michael Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson, was helmed by acclaimed director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and was penned by a trio of noted screenwriters. Martin Scorsese is one of the executive producers, and Scorsese's longtime, Oscar-winning editor Thelma Schoonmaker cut the picture. So, what went wrong? Apparently, everything.
Here's the setup: A serial killer murders seemingly random mothers in Oslo, and leaves behind not-so-scary-looking snowmen at the crime scenes as an icy calling card. He sends an ominous note to Harry Hole (Fassbender), an alcoholic detective who often wakes up on city streets or in parks after a drinking binge, to taunt him. Why does Hole drink? Is it something in his past? Perhaps an unsolved crime he can't shake? Dunno. The filmmakers neglect to tell us, as they often do with other key pieces of information (like why the killer builds snowmen) that are introduced but never explained. Hole teams up with newbie investigator Katrine Bratt (Ferguson), who may be hiding dark secrets of her own, and the two probe a series of crimes that soon extend beyond Oslo and include cold-case homicides stretching back at least a decade. Sounds intriguing and intense, right? Nah!
Watching The Snowman is akin to viewing second-rate crime shows on TV. Just spot the one person who doesn't need to be in the story, unless of course he or she is the culprit, and you know who the killer is. The same is true here: Midway through the film, a lengthy scene occurs with a secondary character that practically screams, "He's the killer!" It doesn't help that the story unspools at a glacial pace, is bogged down by Hole's personal dilemmas with his frisky ex-wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and sullen stepson (Michael Yates), and is populated with unnecessary red herrings. The only real mystery is figuring out the killer's motive for the murders, which turns out to be nothing more than the fact that he didn't get enough hugs and kisses as a child.
Fassbender and Ferguson make the most of their underwritten roles, spouting clunky dialogue like pros, as do Gainsbourg, Toby Jones as a sad-sack cop, and a miscast J.K. Simmons as a lusty Norwegian bigwig who likes to bed beautiful women. Then there's the amateurish Chloë Sevigny -- as twins! -- and an even more dreadful Val Kilmer as a detective whose suicide some years earlier is called into question. Kilmer's garbled dialogue is probably the worst example of dubbing in a major Hollywood movie this century, and perhaps beyond.
The Snowman's biggest mystery isn't who the killer is or why he's murdering moms. It's this: How could a movie with names like Fassbender, Alfredson, Scorsese, and Schoonmaker attached turn out to be one of the worst-constructed and most disappointing films of the year?