It’s often a sign of trouble when there are three prominent screenwriters credited for a movie, especially one that’s based on a successful novel. The fact that The Snowman also features separate credits for two editors (one of them Thelma Schoonmaker, executive producer Martin Scorsese’s longtime colleague) doesn’t bode well, either.

These warning signs accurately foretell a bad movie. Michael Fassbender stars in this muddled adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s best-selling thriller about police detective Harry Hole and the hunt for a brutal and insidious serial killer. Set in Norway, with atmospheric shots of the snowy landscape and isolation of its locations, the screenplay also tries—and fails—to interest us in Hole’s relationship with his ex-girlfriend (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her teenage son. I couldn’t have cared less.

I’m hard pressed to remember another police procedural that was so dull, or so encumbered in trying to tell its story. Rebecca Ferguson plays a colleague who teams up with Fassbender in trying to solve the case, but proves to have an agenda of her own. J.K. Simmons plays an industrialist who plays a role in the larger picture-puzzle. And Val Kilmer, looking and sounding strange (as if his voice was dubbed) portrays a detective whose investigation into incidents nine years earlier still resonate today. At least, I think that’s what this is all about; the timeline confused me, I must admit.

Toby Jones and Chloe Sevigny turn up in relatively small, unworthy parts amidst a largely Scandinavian ensemble. But it’s all for naught: The Snowman is dense and tedious. How director Tomas Alfredson (who made Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) got caught in the maelstrom of this wrongheaded film I don’t know, but I suspect that there were far too many cooks in the kitchen. (The three credited screenwriters are Peter Vaughan, Hossein Amini, and Søren Sveistrup.)

If you want to see a great adaptation of a Jo Nesbø novel, watch Headhunters instead. This 2011 sleeper gets everything right and piles one surprise on top of another. It puts The Snowman to shame.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024