Depending on how you look at it, Harry Hole either has the best name in detective-fiction history or the worst. The hero of Jo Nesbo’s novels makes his screen debut with “The Snowman.” An ace Oslo police detective, Hole smokes and drinks too much. As played by Michael Fassbender, he grimaces way too much. At least he knows enough not to drive a Volvo on a frozen body of water. Somebody else in the movie can’t say the same.
In fairness, Hole has reasons to grimace. Several young mothers have disappeared. Certain characteristics recur, chief among them a sinister-looking snowman outside each woman’s home. It’s the criminal’s calling card. This is Norway, after all. Hole also has an uneasy relationship with his ex-girlfriend (Charlotte Gainsbourg) — and an even uneasier one with his new police partner (Rebecca Ferguson, “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation”). And what is it about a high-profile industrialist (J.K. Simmons) that sets off alarm bells?
Director Tomas Alfredson and cinematographer Dion Beebe have given “The Snowman” a gloriously subdued look. The exteriors are a kind of pearly gun metal; and the warm-toned interiors convey the sense of relief the characters must feel at no longer being outdoors in November.
That look isn’t enough to overcome a sluggish pace and increasingly implausible plot. Frozen red herrings are still red herrings. “The Snowman” manages to feel both overstuffed and incomplete. Alfredson directed the excellent 2011 version of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” stripping down to bare-bones essentials John le Carré’s swollen prose and even more swollen plotting. The film improved on the celebrated 1979 miniseries.
Here Alfredson does the opposite. Would “The Snowman” have worked better as a miniseries? “True North Detective?” Something like that. If nothing else, the several instances of violence would feel less gruesome spread out. And there’d be more of Chloë Sevigny playing twins. That’s right, twins. They laugh alike. They walk alike. And as for how they shovel snow, well, you get the idea.
Directed by Tomas Alfredson. Written by Hossein Amini, Peter Straughan, and Soren Sveistrup; based on the novel by Jo Nesbo. Starring Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, J.K. Simmons, Chloë Sevigny. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 119 minutes. R (grisly images, violence, some language, sexuality, brief nudity).Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.