The Snowman (2017)

2018 #84
Tomas Alfredson | 119 mins | streaming (UHD) | 1.85:1 | UK, USA & Sweden / English | 15 / R

The Snowman

I read a comment somewhere that said Tommy Wiseau’s notorious film The Room is like a movie made by someone who’s never seen one but has had the concept thoroughly explained. The Snowman is like that but with crime thrillers.

Michael Fassbender stars as Norwegian detective Harry Hole — I presume there’s been some kind of fault of culture or translation there because, in English, that’s pretty much the worst name for a detective ever conceived without deliberately trying to be awful. He’s kind of washed up, with a terrible private life, but he’s also an unassailably brilliant detective — oh yeah, the originality keeps on coming. Anyway, after a woman disappears, an ominous snowman built near the crime sets Hole and a younger cop (Rebecca Ferguson) on the trail of a serial killer who’s been active for decades.

All of which should make for at least a solid crime thriller, but it just doesn’t quite work. It’s like the whole thing has been almost-correctly-but-not-quite translated from another language. I’m not just talking about the dialogue (though that’s sometimes that way too), but the very essence of the movie — the character arcs, the storylines, even the construction of individual scenes. Like many a Google Translate offering, you can kinda tell what it’s meant to be, but it doesn’t actually make sense in itself. According to the director, around 15% of the screenplay was never even filmed due to a rushed production schedule, which perhaps explains some of these problems.

Mr and Ms Police

Said director is Tomas Alfredson, the man who gave us Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, so you’d expect a lot better of him. Even the technical elements are mixed: there’s some stunning photography and scenery, contrasted with occasional bad green screen; and all of Val Kilmer’s lines had to be dubbed (due to his tongue being swollen from cancer, apparently), but it sounds like it. His performance on the whole is weird, just one more part of the film that doesn’t sit right. It all builds to a massively stupid, unremittingly nonsensical finale. It’s during the final act where things finally goes overboard from “not very good” to “irredeemably bad”.

Indeed, some of the The Snowman is so shockingly awful that I considered if it merited my rare one-star rating. It’s close, but a lot of the film is fine — it actually toddles along at a reasonable three-star level most of the time, before falling apart entirely towards the end. “It could be worse” may be the faintest of praise, but it certainly doesn’t deserve any more.

2 out of 5

The Snowman is available on Sky Cinema from midnight tonight.

Crimes of Passion: Death of a Loved One (2013)

aka Mördaren ljuger inte ensam

2014 #82
Birger Larsen | 84 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | Sweden / Swedish | 15

Crimes of Passion: Death of a Loved OneIt would seem there’s a market in Sweden for series of feature-length crime dramas that begin with a first episode released in cinemas before continuing in regular direct-to-DVD/TV instalments. It’s what happened with the Krister Henriksson Wallander (which eventually totted up five theatrical releases across its three series), and the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo films also exist in cropped and lengthened TV versions (released in the UK and US as “extended editions”). The latest example is Crimes of Passion, the first episode of which debuted in cinemas in March 2013, before five more feature-length mysteries were released on DVD between August and November the same year. In the UK, it’s the latest Scandi-crime acquisition for BBC Four, airing in their regular “foreign crime” slot of Saturday nights at 9pm.

Marketed as “Mad Men meets The Killing”, it would be more accurately described as “Agatha Christie with subtitles”. There’s some of the ’60s style of the US critical hit — not least a detective who looks like he’s Don Draper’s twin brother — and there’s murder with a Scandinavian accent, as per the cause célèbre of Nordic Noir; but those are surface similarities. The fundamental elements are Christie through and through: a small group of people in a confined location where one (or more) mysteriously dies and the detective solves the case simply by interviewing the suspects, all in a pretty early-20th-Century setting. There’s a little more nudity (a skinny-dipping bottom!) and gore (a fly-bothered corpse!) than Poirot or Miss Marple usually have to deal with, but anyone au fait with the ITV iterations of those characters from the last twenty-or-so years will be in comfortable territory here.

Crimefighting trioThe specifics of the plot see young university lecturer Puck (Tuva Novotny) invited to spend midsummer on the island home of her supervisor, who’s really asking on behalf of attractive history lecturer Eje (Linus Wahlgren), who Puck has been to a café with three times. A whole gaggle of old chums of Rutger and Eje are also there, including a couple of uninvited guests who arrive out of the blue — and before you know it, Puck finds one of them dead. Eje calls in his chum, detective Christer Wijk (Ola Rapace), and, after the island is cut off from the mainland in a more permanent fashion, the three set about getting to the bottom of things. Cue suspicious actions spied through trees, suspicious conversations partially overheard, suspicious evasion of perfectly reasonable questions, and all the usual suspiciousness you’d expect from a Christie narrative — only subtitled.

The storytelling is very much on a par with recent Poirot and Marple TV adaptations, for better or worse — if you enjoy those (as I do), then this should float your boat also; if they’re not your cup of tea, this doesn’t have anything startlingly original to add to the mix. There’s some pretty cinematography by Mats Axby, and director Birger Larsen’s choice of a 2.35:1 aspect ratio is shorthand for movie-quality, but isn’t inherently backed up by what’s in the frame. That isn’t to say it’s badly directed, just not strikingly cinematic. It’s a completely standalone tale at least, unlike some of those Wallanders, which were very much episodes-of-a-series that happened to get a big screen outing.

Don Draper's subtitled twinNovotny makes for a likeable lead, though the attempted love triangle between her, Wahlgren and Rapace feels like a non-starter. The biggest surprise is Rapace: previously seen as troubled young copper Stefan Lindman in Wallander and, most famously, as shaven-headed silent assassin Patrice in Skyfall, here he’s every inch the slick Draper ladies’ man. That he ends up seeming to do less detecting than Novotny’s amateur sleuth isn’t too troubling.

How well Crimes of Passion works for BBC Four remains to be seen, but it’s suitably different to their usual dour Scandi acquisitions to perhaps tempt in a different kind of viewer. Or maybe just inspire an interest in our good old murder-mystery yarns for anyone previously too highfalutin’ to bother.

4 out of 5

Death of a Loved One is available on BBC iPlayer until 10:25pm tonight. The second episode, King Lily of the Valley, is on BBC Four at 9pm.