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The Snowman: My take on the movie starring Michael Fassbender #book2movies [review]

‘‘I didn’t think it was that bad. Not as bad as I was expecting.’’ That’s what I tell my husband when we leave the 1:45 pm showing of The Snowman starring Michael Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson. My husband says something along the lines of  ‘that’s not much of an endorsement’. 

I have to admit, based on buzz, we wouldn’t have gone to see The Snowman if I wasn’t both writing a blog about movies based on books and if I wasn’t a Michael Fassbender fan. And if we didn’t have MoviePass, which enables us to see a movie every day at select theaters for just $9.95 a month. That doesn’t hurt either.

But honestly, it wasn’t that bad. It was just a bit ... meh and hard to follow.

A Norwegian travelogue 

The Atlantic Road Coastal Highway/Copyright: Fjellfjord

On the plus side. It was amazing to see Norway, all the snow and ice, the architecture of Oslo, the seafront of Bergen. The strangeness of Vigeland Park sheafed in snow (you get a peek through the window about 58 secs into the trailer below). The scene where we travel over a gently curving elevated road across this spellbinding white swathe of snow and ice (the 112 second mark). Later there are acres of spindly skeleton-like trees bathed in snow. But that’s me, I love that stuff.

Val Kilmer overlooking Vagen, the bay at Bergen, Norway

I loved seeing Norway,’’ I say. ‘‘Besides Fassbender, that was the real star of the movie. I’m glad we saw it just for that.’’

‘‘Well,” he says, his critical thinking skills unhampered by his affection for the star,“that’s hardly a reason to recommend it. You can go online and see pictures and video of Norway.’’

He has me there. So. I come back to my default position. I really didn’t think it was that bad. It was okay. Fassbender—in a role that demanded little of him—was perfectly natural and believable as an alcoholic who passes out in warming huts and police department benches, plods through the snow swept landscape, a once brilliant detective, now a fuck-up, halfheartedly turning his crime solving skills to the job at hand. 

No sex

Rebecca Ferguson, as a new member of his unit was fine. She’s beautiful but there’s no chemistry, intentional or not. Shortly after they begin working together, she says to him ‘you’re not going to try to sleep with me, are you?’ he looks at her mystified. ‘No,’ he answers. And that really is the end of that. That’s a problem because you don’t have to have sex but you do need sexual energy. 

An old acting teacher used to tell us every scene is, at its core, about sex. That life force is the driving force. Maybe that’s part of the problem. There’s no sex in the movie. Literally and figuratively. Even in a scene where his former girlfriend tries to get something started with him, lifting up her woolen dress, mounting him, there is nothing happening. When she moves away to answer her phone—he’s given her no reason to stay—he gives her the same mystified look as he gave Ferguson. It’s as though there’s something dead, empty inside. True, Harry Hole (Ah, there’s a clue) seems to be missing something, only coming to life around his former girlfriend’s son. Even then he can’t keep it together, live up to his own desire to be a father figure. He’s a disappointment to the boy, to himself and to us.

The elements of the crime, a serial killer decapitating women and leaving snowmen as a clue, is as hole-filled as Harry’s empty-feeling inner self. Flashbacks you don’t realize are flashbacks until the movie’s over. Improbable situations and the like. 

Still, I could forgive those issues if Fassbender had hooked me like he usually does. Did he play Harry Hole by the book? Is that depressing character he displayed the man he wanted us to see? While I love a flawed character—Matthew McConaughey in True Detective, Stellan Skarsgard in River, there needs to be something about them to fall in love with. While The Snowman didn’t leave me ice cold, I have to grudgingly admit, I didn’t feel the heat.

The Snowman is based on the book by Jo Nesbo, the 7th in the hugely popular series. Maybe that's the ticket. Go back and read the books in order, get to know Harry first. Fall in love. 

The Snowman, directed by acclaimed director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) was scripted by Hossein Amini (Drive, Ronin, Wings of the Dove) and includes Martin Scorsese as Executive Producer with his longtime collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker listed along with Claire Simpson as editor. Cinematography is by Dion Beebe (The Edge of Tomorrow, Mary Poppins Returns) In addition to Michael Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson the cast includes Charlottes Gainsborough, Jonas Karlsson,Toby Jones, Chloe Sevigny, James Darcy,Val Kilmer, and J.K. Simmons.

Oh, by the way ... the director has answered critics saying the reason the film has been so poorly received is that he didn’t get a chance to shoot everything.
“Our shoot time in Norway was way too short,” the Swedish filmmaker told the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (translated by The Independent). “We didn’t get the whole story with us and when we started cutting we discovered that a lot was missing. It’s like when you’re making a big jigsaw puzzle and a few pieces are missing so you don’t see the whole picture.”
That’s a bit bizarre. Not to know until you arrive at the cutting stage that so many pieces are missing is more than a mistake, it’s a mistake in judgement. He knows what he shot, he should have known what he got.

Also, the glimpses of Norway I fell in love with? Apparently they’re geographically incorrect. On that score I agree with Alfredson, ‘‘If not everything is geographically correct, I don’t give a shit.’’