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How The Snowman Became a Fascinating Mess of a Movie

May 1, 2023


Subpar movies are a dime a dozen. It usually takes some level of extenuating circumstances to produce the best of the best — and the worst of the worst. Unfortunately for fans of noir thrillers, The Snowman falls hard into the latter category.

Based on an internationally acclaimed novel and featuring some of the biggest names in cinema, this movie, on paper, should have been a hit. What resulted instead, though, was a mess of a film riddled with strange acting choices, baffling editing, a laughable villain, and much, much more.

How did this Oscar-bait neo-noir thriller fail so spectacularly, and was it doomed from the start?

Who Is Harry Hole?

Universal Pictures

The Snowman is the eighth entry in author Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole series, which follows the drunken detective as he uses his unorthodox but highly effective methods to solve crimes in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and others. Over the course of the novels, readers get to know the eccentric investigator. Movie audiences, however, are expected to love him without seven novels worth of character development.

Related: The Best Neo-Noirs of the 21st Century, So Far

Our introduction to Harry in the film finds him asleep on a snowy playground, a nearly empty bottle of vodka hanging limply from his hand. There isn’t much to like about Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Hole, and the movie doesn’t give audiences much of anything to hold onto as an interesting character trait. It also would have done the filmmakers some good to look up a proper pronunciation of Harry’s last name (“Hole” pronounced “HOO-leh”) instead of just giving him the laughable name Harry Hole (pronounced just how you think).

A Pedigree of Quality

Universal Pictures

The author of The Snowman, Jo Nesb­­ø, is an internationally acclaimed writer, and the Harry Hole series is beloved by fans of neo-noir crime fiction. Contemporary reviews describe the novel as “Erica Jong meets Stephen King meets…Stieg Larsson” and “a first-class roller-coaster ride.” Nesbø’s novels have sold over 33 million copies worldwide. Given the novel’s pedigree among and outside the literary crowd, The Snowman film had a built-in audience and a lot to live up to.

That was, of course, compounded by the incredible cast in front of and behind the camera on the film. Martin Scorsese dropped out as director but stayed on as executive producer. Stepping into his role was Tomas Alfredson, who had previously received high praise for his films Let The Right One In and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The cast of The Snowman is also absolutely stacked with stars. Aside from Fassbender in the lead, the film boasts Rebecca Ferguson, J.K. Simmons, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer, Chloë Sevigny, and Toby Jones. Everything about who was working on this film would seem to indicate at least a competent film, and yet it fails to even be that at times.

A Flurry of Bad Decisions

Universal Pictures

The Snowman is full of celebrated actors, but some of the choices made by and for these actors are strange and highly distracting. J.K. Simmons as business mogul Arve Støp uses a semi-Norwegian accent that stands out against all the other non-Norwegian actors not doing accents. There’s also Val Kilmer’s performance as Detective Gert Rafto, which is entirely re-dubbed with ADR because the actor was recovering from throat cancer at the time of filming.

Related: The Best Unconventional Detective TV Shows and Movies, Ranked

More distracting than the strange accents and ADR, though, is the absolutely bizarre editing that makes this mystery hard enough to follow, let alone solve. For example, Chloë Sevigny’s character has a brief introduction before she’s dispatched by the eponymous killer. She then reappears as that character’s twin sister for no reason, and neither character appears again for the remainder of the movie. The Kilmer portions of the story, which take place nine years prior, cut in almost at random with little to no transition and hardly a signal that we’re in a different time. Up until the final third of the film, Kilmer’s role as Detective Rafto feels unrelated despite the fact that he’s hunting the same killer as Detective Hole.

The Mystery of the Missing Film

Universal Pictures

That bizarre editing that makes The Snowman so difficult to follow was, apparently, a result of un-shot footage. According to Alfredson, filming happened very abruptly with little warning and the time the production had to shoot the film was “way too short.” So short, in fact, that about 10 to 15 percent of the script went un-shot. By the time the film went to editing, Alfredson and crew realized they didn’t have the footage necessary to make a coherent film. As he put it, “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.”

It would be difficult to argue that any movie would make sense missing that much of the content it was supposed to contain. To try and do that with a suspenseful crime thriller that involves multiple, intersecting plot points and red herrings is Sisyphean. What should be a cerebral experience is instead a slushy mess that is neither interesting nor intelligent.

Alfredson is highly insistent that the reason The Snowman was such a failure falls solely at the studio’s feet, but what we do see from this movie indicates that what the studio did was just make a mediocre to bad movie worse. From strange acting and casting choices to memeable snowman-based imagery, The Snowman was never going to be another The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, no matter how much it wanted to be.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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