It's cold in Norway during winter. That shouldn't come as a surprise — and, given that it's both set and shot in the Scandinavian nation, neither should the thoroughly frosty look of The Snowman. From the film's opening image, nearly every frame is dusted with the kind of iciness that only comes from particularly chilly climes. And yet, when a cop connects a series of seemingly random murders, her big discovery stems from the fact that it's snowing when each death occurred.
Viewers can be forgiven for groaning loudly when this revelation is made. Faced with a screen full of white flakes for two long hours, if you find yourself thinking "isn't it snowing almost constantly?" then you certainly won't be alone. If you also start to wonder how observing the weather passes for smart police work in the world of the movie, or who thought that'd make an interesting plot point, that's understandable too. Then again, the hero of The Snowman goes by the name of Harry Hole, so perhaps it's best not to expect too much of the movie around him.
Spied sleeping in the snow more than once, Harry (Michael Fassbender) is the type of grizzled drunk of a detective that gets away with being intoxicated and unreliable because he's supposedly brilliant — not that The Snowman dedicates any time to explaining why that is. After his latest bender, he partners up with aforementioned snow-spotter Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson) to investigate the slayings of a spate of Oslo women. When the duo aren't piecing together obvious clues, Harry is wading through his snowstorm of a personal life, involving his kindly ex (Charlotte Gainsbourg), her teenage son (Michael Yates) and her new plastic surgeon boyfriend (Jonas Karlsson).
Bad storytelling, bad monikers, bland characterisation, by-the-numbers backstory, barely interesting procedural drama: there's an avalanche brewing in The Snowman, and it's of the generic and cliched kind. Indeed, the Nordic noir does come with its own intriguing case to solve, though it has nothing to do with the on-screen narrative. Rather, the mystery surrounds how such a dull flick sprang from such promising pedigree. Directed by Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), scripted by Peter Straughan (Frank), Hossein Amini (Drive) and Søren Sveistrup (The Killing), and based on a best-selling book by Jo Nesbø (Headhunters), it's not as though the production is short on talent.
A whole series of Nesbø's novels actually revolve around the unfortunately named Harry, although don't expect a whole series of films to follow suit. With Scandinavian crime a hit on the page, on TV and in cinemas, The Snowman is clearly designed to start a new detective franchise, but the final product will surely cause those hopes to melt. At least Fassbender proves suitably frosty, playing his part with a solemn demeanour and never threatening to thaw out. Alas, it's still not nearly enough to make audiences actually care about his character or anything that he does against the icy Norwegian scenery.