If ever a Film School wants to show its students what a broken film looks and feels like, then The Snowman is the one to show them. Here’s a film with a good, popular book as source material, a great cast, a good team behind the camera, and yet none of it works. None of it. The screenplay dismantles the source novel, the cast is great but the casting awful, as if the actors were given the parts they didn’t audition for, and the direction and editing so inept… well, on that score, I’d only suggest that it looks like the film suffered from a set of reshoots that just further damaged a damaged film. I know nothing of the production history of the film, but it certainly looks like previews of the initial cut were so bad the studio panicked, did considerable reshoots, only to result in further bad previews and another set of reshoots, because this film feels like its three different films jumbled up together. Almost as if each set of reshoots were helmed by a different director. Funny thing is, I have a nagging suspicion that there were no reshoots at all, and instead this is the film they just made. I don’t think I’ve watched such a confused mess of a film in such a long time.
I’ve seen bad films before, and I’ve certainly seen worse films than The Snowman, but seldom have I watched a film so broken, disjointed. It was almost fascinating.
Strangely, this kind of serial killer, police procedural mystery thriller set in European locations has been done many times before, and much better, on television. Indeed, the Cardinal series (set in Canada, and of which the first seen most closely resembles The Snowman) which I have reviewed here, is far, far superior.
Oddly enough, for once I am actually familiar with the source material the film is based on. The Snowman is adapted from a book of the same title written by Jo Nesbo, and I managed to read about half of the novel before I gave up on it. I think perhaps that these complex serial killer mysteries and their twists and turns are just too, well, convoluted for my taste. I imagine part of the fun for readers of this stuff are the twists and misdirection that the writers use to keep seasoned readers guessing, because it was all too much for a newcomer to the genre like me (substitute ‘convoluted’ to ‘preposterous’). Anyway, I therefore came to the film with a curiosity regards how the book ended and who the killer was. Unfortunately, I’m still not sure, because not a lot of the book seemed to be in the film, and what there was seemed to be twisted up in a mess, so I’m wondering if the film shared the same solution as the book did.
The film was perhaps hampered by the fact that the book was the seventh in a series of novels concerning the character of Norwegian detective Harry Hole, with all the baggage that entails with references to personal history and prior books/cases. The book could get away with some of this through paragraphs of text, but how do you manage this in a medium such as film? I suppose you could argue that any story, any film, is actually continuing a story with lots of past baggage simply because whenever we are introduced to a character he/she has a lifetime of past history in the films fictional universe, its just a question of how much that influences the films actual plot. But here The Snowman film fumbles completely. Actually, I think this is where the films casting really messes up, because the Harry Hole of the novel that I pictured in my head in no way mirrors Michael Fassbender. Harry was a middle-aged, overweight drunk suffering from the trauma of too many bad cases, which the film version seems to think equals handsome Fassbender smoking too much.
In actual fact, as odd as he unfortunately looks, Val Kilmer, who features here as a character revealed in flashbacks to a prior case, would have been a better fit, and a more interesting-looking Harry Hole. Unfortunately due to his real-life illness I doubt Kilmer would have managed carrying a film in a leading role (he is necessarily dubbed by another actor, but its handled terribly), and more pointedly he hardly looks today the typical leading man he used to, which perhaps serves my point. Fassbender looks every bit your typical leading man for a Hollywood thriller, however it might ill-serve the actual film. Unfortunately, when the lead of a film doesn’t look or feel right, then your film is in trouble. I quite liked Fassbender in Ridley Scott’s The Counsellor, in which he played a driven, flawed character, so he can certainly do this sort of role, which likely suggests that he is handicapped by the script and direction, having little to really work with other than being told to light another cigarette.
I could tell the film was in trouble right from the very start, with a nonsensical prologue that I would imagine was intended to instil interest and mystery but falls so flat it could have been cut from the film and no-one would have noticed. Moreover, it was a sequence not in the book (at least as far as I had read it, and certainly the book did not start with it) which suggests it was manufactured by the screenwriter. Perhaps they thought the film otherwise had a pacing issue or lacked a tease to catch audience interest. A young boy living in an isolated snow-swept lakeside house with his mother is interrogated by a middle-aged man who hits the boys mother and then sleeps with her, before storming off when the boy sees them together in bed. The mother puts the boy in her car and races after the man, who is in a police car. We then cut to the woman’s car coming out of a tunnel with the police car she is chasing nowhere to be seen, so she spins the car off the road onto a frozen lake. The boy gets out of the car before the ice cracks but the woman seems supernaturally calm as she remains inside and waits to plunged into the frozen water as the car sinks in-front of the naturally upset boy. This boy will no doubt grow up to be either our killer or Harry Hole. Maybe the latter would have been more interesting, particularly as regards how the film ends.
Films like The Snowman do fascinate me. Broken things can sometimes be fixed, and sometimes they can’t, and in the case of film, well, many have tried to fix broken films with recuts (and many have bizarrely tried to break films with recuts that were previously fine –Apocalypse Now Redux, I’m looking at you) but there are all sorts of things not working in The Snowman and I doubt it could ever work. All sorts of sub-plots and supporting characters just don’t fit; and you could argue some are immaterial and could be dropped entirely while others are fundamental and their failure terribly undermines the film. Its such a mess. I could, possibly should, expound upon them here and write one of my longest blog-posts ever, but whats the point? I doubt many people would be interested enough in a lacklustre effort such as The Snowman to read this or even care. But it could be an important lesson for prospective film-makers in Film School.