Review by Miriam Atkinson
Based on the best-selling novel by Jo Nesbo, The Snowman follows Inspector Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) of the Oslo Police as he pieces together new and cold cases in order to catch a serial killer who targets women and whose signature involves leaving snowmen at crime scenes.
On paper, the film had all the right ingredients. Director Tomas Alfredson and writer Peter Staughan also directed and wrote the 2011 film-adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, making them strong choices to adapt The Snowman. The film has an excellent cast – particularly in Fassbender as Harry Hole – however the actor is not required to do much outside the range of appearing brooding and miserable. However, the film did fully utilise the truly spectacular landscapes of Norway.
The act of compressing Nesbo’s 550 page book into a 119 minute run time was always going to be a challenge. The best part of the novel is a wonderfully complex and intricately thought-out plot, where seemingly unrelated characters are carefully revealed to have hidden connections to each other. Unfortunately, the plot is where the film falls apart.
It was always unlikely that the film would manage to include every detail from the original plot, but it was a surprise to see just how much the story had been simplified. As a book reader it was painful to see major characters Støp and Vetlesen reduced to seedy pimps in a bizarre plotline that served no purpose to the main story. As a movie-goer, the character’s motivations – including that of the killer – were at times unclear and the film was therefore forced, during the climax, to waste time on exposition.
The police also stumbled from clue to clue with great ease, yet it takes them a long time to work out who the killer is. One of the strengths of the novel comes from the array characters, all with secrets to hide, which causes the reader and police to constantly change their mind about the killer’s identity. The film lacks this suspense and the attempt to fool the reader into believing the killer is found is woefully transparent – the ruse not helped by Harry’s immediate insistence that they have the wrong person.
Another frustrating aspect of The Snowman was the total lack of any strong female characters. In the opening scene the audience is introduced to a woman who willingly dies after her abusive boyfriend leaves her, rather than continue to raise and protect her son. The novel features a brilliant scene when one of the killer’s victims throws an axe at her attacker before fleeing into the woods, leading to a fatal game of cat and mouse. However in the film all of the victims just … die. There was no resistance and no tension as everything happened so quickly. Even Detective Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) who started out as a relatively interesting maverick ends up fading out of the story, after only having a limited impact on the overall plot. It seemed as though all of the female characters were either victims or helplessly in need of Harry to save them.
The Snowman certainly won’t be remembered as one of the best book-to-film adaptations. At best, the film can be described as ‘alright,’ as it leads the audience on a journey through the Norwegian landscape to catch a killer. A waste of a wonderful cast on a film that genuinely had so much potential. Surely any plans to adapt more of Nesbo’s series are now in doubt.