Film Review: ‘The Snowman’

Directed by: Tomas Alfredson

Screenplay by: Hossein Amini and Peter Straughan

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg

Original Release Date: October 2017

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 to catch a serial killer targeting women and whose signature involves leaving snowmen at crime scenes.

On paper the film had all the right ingredients. Director Tomas Alfredson and scriptwriter Peter Staughan were both involved in the 2011 film-adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as director and co-writer respectively. This made 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 to make the character work. Shot on location in Norway meant that the film could fully utilise the truly spectacular landscape that the country has to offer.

However 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. In the film many characters’ motivations, including the killer’s, were at times unclear and the film was forced to waste time on exposition during the climax to explain why everything had happened.

In the film the police also stumbled from clue to clue with such ease it is amazing it takes them so long to work out who the killer is. One of the strengths of the novel comes from the array characters, all with secrets to hide, causing 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 viewer 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. Contrast this with a difference scene from the novel which features a brilliant section where one of the killer’s victim’s 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 which is a departure from the book.

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 (honestly the wide landscape shots were the best part of the film). It is a waste of a wonderful cast on a film that genuinely had so much potential. Despite the film’s final scene setting up a sequel surely any plans to adapt more of Nesbo’s crime series are now in doubt.

Since this review was first published director Tomas Alfredson has admitted that the film faced problems with a rushed production schedule which seems to have caused some scenes or elements to be missed.

Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman is one of the best crime novels I have ever read and it’s not because of luck that Nesbo is a worldwide best-selling author. His story definitely deserves a second chance but if anyone was to ever make a new Snowman adaptation I would love to see it adapted for television rather than film. A TV adaption would bring a slower pace which the story needs to grow and the longer overall run time would ensure that no details for left out of the plot.

This review was originally published in the online magazine Cuckoo Review in October 2017

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