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Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Snowman

I was not planning on reviewing The Snowman.  It did not show up at my theater last weekend, and judging by the toxic buzz the movie received even before it came out, I considered myself lucky.  But, a strange thing happened.  The more I heard about how confused and inept the movie was, the more I became oddly fascinated by it.  It was the kind of bad movie I almost had to see for myself after a while.  And so, with Movie Pass in hand, I searched for the nearest theater that was showing the film, since I knew it would likely not be playing for long.  I mean, could it really be that bad?

If you want the short answer to that question, it's "yes".  The long answer is "Dear God, yes".  As advertised, The Snowman is one of the most inept major studio releases in recent memory.  Forget the fact that the script reads like it was fed through a pasta maker and then taped back together.  Forget the fact that the film's director has openly admitted that a good portion of the script was simply unfilmed due to time constraints.  You can even forget the inexplicable and out of the blue appearance by Val Kilmer in a throwaway role, where it sounds like his voice has been dubbed over for reasons unexplained.  The simple fact is, even if the movie made perfect sense, had been edited expertly and was not full of holes (the fact that a good number of scenes in the trailer don't appear in the final film suggest that this movie has been hacked to pieces), it still would be unwatchable due to the fact that it's one of the most dour and depressingly toned features I've sat through in many a moon.

It features one of those narratives that jumps around to different points in time, which at first makes you think it might be a stylistic choice on the part of the filmmakers, but you quickly pick up on the fact that the story doesn't even know where it's going, so it keeps on trying to go in different directions.  Characters literally fade in and out of existence, and whole scenes are clearly missing.  There are whole sections of the film that feel inexplicable and out of place.  And if you should try to follow the plot and solve the mystery, you will be rewarded with one of those endings where the villain shows up, points a gun at the hero's head, and spells out everything when they should just shut up and shoot the hero, thus ending the movie.  Even worse is how the villain is eventually removed from the picture.  I'm not going to spoil it, but it's been a long time that I've seen a villain done in by an accident, or what can only be explained as an act of God.

The movie is based on a best selling novel that I have not read, but I hear it has little in common with what has wound up on the screen.  In fact, the book's author has even requested to have his name taken off of the film.  From what I've gathered, the filmmakers more or less took the basic skeleton of his story, and then decided to make up their own story.  So, I guess there are a lot of people to blame here.  Those who have read the novel say that it's very cinematic, and could have been adapted into a film easily.  I guess director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) was given a blueprint, but chose not to follow it.   The film was originally going to be directed by Martin Scorsese, who walked away, but remains with an "in name only" Executive Producer credit.  This most be how Scorsese's frequent editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, got involved in this mess.  I can only guess the look on her face when she saw the unassembled raw footage, and realized what she had gotten herself into.

If you do manage to look past all the technical and editing problems on display, you can find a plot that at least reads like it belongs in a real movie.  Credit to this goes to the original novel, I'm guessing.  We follow Detective Henry Hole (Michael Fassbender, a talented actor who needs to be a bit choosier with his projects after Assassins Creed and now this) as he investigates a series of murders in Oslo where the only connection is that all of them have a snowman at the scene of the crime.  We see so many snowmen, I almost don't want to see another one in a movie for a good long time. (Sorry, Olaf from Frozen.) He and his partner Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson) follow the clues, chase down a lot of red herrings, and basically lead the audience on a plot that grows more confused and ludicrous as it goes on, simply because so little is explained or left simply to the imagination of the screenwriters.  We get tons of flashbacks, shady characters (J.K. Simmons shows up as a key suspect), and a subplot built around Henry's alcoholism and troubled family life that goes nowhere, and has no dramatic payoff whatsoever.

Much like Tulip Fever, The Snowman comes across as a prestige project that roped in a lot of talent and was expected to do great things for the studio, but due to either sheer ineptness or just the fact that the filmmakers did not understand the source material, it ends up becoming a cinematic junk heap.  There's little to anything left to salvage here, but at least the movie ends on a good laugh - It ends on a note that suggests a sequel. 

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