Days before “The Snowman” was released, director Tomas Alfredson said in an interview that 10-15% of the screenplay was never filmed, leaving gaps in the story that had to be covered in the editing. As far as I’m concerned, that should be published in all the ads next to the movie’s rating: “By the director’s own admission, this movie is borderline incoherent because a significant chunk of the script didn’t get filmed.” Tickets should be offered at a discounted rate, like obstructed-view theater seats or dented canned goods.
I suspect “The Snowman” would have been bad anyway, given that the main character’s name is Harry Hole and everyone calls him “Harry Hole” all the time, or sometimes “Inspector Hole” (don’t mind if I do!). That’s his name in the Norwegian novels he comes from, too, but there it’s pronounced Norwegianly: “hoh-leh,” almost “holy.” The movie, though still set in Norway and made by a Swedish director, Americanizes it to “hole.” Harry Hole. When bad choices like that are being made at a fundamental level, what hope is there for the rest of the movie?
Anyway, Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) is a rheumy-eyed Oslo cop who drinks too much and is currently sleeping in the park while his house is renovated. (Why doesn’t he stay with friends or in a hotel? The 10-15% probably explains that.) Harry Hole has an ex-girlfriend, Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg), with whom he has a teenage son, Oleg (Michael Yates), who doesn’t know Harry Hole is his father, thinks he’s just a family friend. (Why have they kept Oleg’s paternity a secret? Check the 10-15%.)
Harry Hole receives a cryptic, handwritten, all-caps note at the police station from someone who’s been spying on him and has a fixation with snowmen. The same day, a local mother goes missing from her home, outside of which the culprit has built a snowman. Harry Hole remembers reading about a previous case from nine years ago, when a detective named Rafto (Val Kilmer, somehow, seen only in flashbacks) pursued a serial killer with an identical M.O. Partnered with a cop named Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson) — who’s TOO CLOSE TO THE CASE! etc. — Harry Hole hunts for the Snowman Killer while juggling uninteresting dramas with his ex-girlfriend and his secret son.
All of this is set against the backdrop of Oslo putting in a bid to host the “Winter Sports World Cup” (definitely not the heavily trademarked Winter Olympics, please do not suggest such a thing), sponsored by wealthy industrialist Arve Stop (J.K. Simmons) and a shady “pregnancy doctor” (does Norway not have a word for “ob-gyn”?) named Vetlesen (David Dencik). These and others are presented as possible suspects, though the full import of the Winter Sports World Cup bid and details like Stop and Vetlesen’s involvement in prostitution (I think?) are not adequately explained, at least not in the 85-90% of the movie that exists. All I know is that this is the only movie I’ve seen that is not improved by the presence of J.K. Simmons.
Alfredson, whose previous films (“Let the Right One In,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) were not humiliating disasters, wrings only a few moments of dramatic tension out of a potboiler story that should have been an easy hit but is instead a plodding, emotionless exercise to be cast down the memory hole (harry or otherwise).
D (1 hr., 59 min.; )