During the first few minutes of The Snowman, the new adaptation of the popular thriller from Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø, I felt as though I was in good hands. With an excellent cast — Michael Fassbender as Nesbø's alcoholic police detective Harry Hole, Charlotte Gainsbourg as his ex-girlfriend Rakel, Val Kilmer as a detective on the edge named Gert Rafto — and some truly beautiful cinematography, The Snowman's early moments felt like a perfect fall entertainment: a serial-killer flick filmed on location in Norway (one of the most beautiful countries on Earth, and I will fight you if you disagree.)
Even more encouraging, the film seemed delightfully weird. Hole, with his unzipped olive winter jacket and his plastic shopping bag full of clues, is prone to drinking himself to unconsciousness at night in public places around Oslo. Given that winter in Norway is usnpeakably cold, he seems to be committing suicide in the most half-assed, drawn out way imaginable. And Fassbender looks appropriately terrible as Hole: pale and thin and scowling and about an inch away from losing his mind.
The Snowman's first hour is full of bizarre and fun moments. Chloë Sevigny shows up for one of the oddest, most hilarious cameos I've ever seen outside of the 1966 Batman TV show. Kilmer's drunken cop is so offended by the joy of his coworkers that they literally drive him out on a ledge. The plot picks us up and drops us off at different times and locations without explaining what we're doing there, or why. It's a little disorienting, but it's interesting.
And then the second hour of the film rolls out, and it's one of the dullest, most generic serial-killer films you've ever seen. In fact, The Snowman strikes me as remarkable for the simple fact that it gets less interesting with each passing moment of its screentime. A chart marking my moment-to-moment interest in the film would be a perfect diagonal line from the top left corner of the chart straight down to the lower right corner. By the time the interminable last fifteen minutes rolled around, I just wanted it to be over before it transformed all the way into the worst Law & Order spin-off you've ever seen.
That said, the twitchy and somber score by Marco Beltrami is excellent. Longtime Scorcese associate Thelma Schoonmaker's hand is apparent in some of the film's interesting editing choices. And Dion Beebe's cinematography perfectly captures the raw, monstrous beauty of Norway in the wintertime. But as the film goes on, each of these good qualities dissolve into the sloppy beige of corporate filmmaking at its worst. Rarely has so much cinematic promise transformed into so much unmemorable dreck. Nesbø and Hole deserve better than this; hopefully Fassbender can reprise the role in a more suitable adaptation of another Hole thriller sometime in the near future.