The Good: Julia Ormand's acting, Plot development, Good pacing, Smilla
The Bad: Gabriel Byrne's character, Underdeveloped potential
The Basics: Smilla's Sense Of Snow is a surprisingly good film wherein a lone woman seeks to discover the roots of a murder and exposes instead a Corporate Evil.
I'll confess; every time I've seen the cover for Smilla's Sense Of Snow at the library, I've refused to pick it up. It simply didn't look good. I judged a video by its cover and assumed it was some drippy drama about some woman and her love for a man. If you look at the cover of the video, it's easy to make that assumption, but it's completely wrong. Smilla's Sense Of Snow is a long-feeling film that tracks the Greenlandic Smilla on the case of a dead boy in her apartment building. Convinced he met with foul play, the micro hydrologist starts an investigation a la NYPD Blue only to discover it's actually an episode of the X-Files (reviewed here!). It's a very specific X-File, too, but I'm not going to mention the title of the episode lest it ruin the experience for others who wish to be pleasantly surprised by this film.
So, in Denmark, there's a building that has several immigrants from Greenland. Smilla is one of those immigrants, a six year old boy and his mother are others. Smilla returns home from work one day to discover her young friend has jumped off the roof of their building and died. Convinced by the tracks in the snow that it was not an accident, Smilla begins investigating, harassing the local district attorney and police to keep the investigation opened. Aiding her is a stranger from her building whose allegiances are uncertain and his emotional connection to Smilla even more unstable. As well, Smilla is aided by her father, an apparently important and influential man with many connections. The case leads Smilla and her strange companion to Greenland Mining and a series of accidents that have occurred with several expeditions and it becomes clear (though no one says the words) that there's a massive conspiracy afoot.
What doesn't work is Gabriel Byrne. Love him in pretty much everything I've seen him in except this. His character was too inconsistent and while Smilla's headstrong behavior lends itself to abrupt turns, his did not and yet the character (and possibly the actor) were often inconsistent and difficult to watch. I think perhaps he was cast in the role simply because he's one of the few actors able to work around the name "Smilla" frequently. As well, there are underdeveloped premises. For instance Smilla and the stranger (who I looked up and according to the IMDB is "The Mechanic")'s relationship. It seems there's something going on between them before the film begins and we're never clued into it. There are several other points where it seems like the film could have made explicit or taken a few moments more to develop and round out the scenes. It seems like some of the scenes are too roughly cut.
On the other hand, Julia Ormond is fabulous as the rogue Smilla. She's self-reliant, deliberate, and determined. Ormond adds a steely face and unbreaking posture to the role. This is one of the rare instances where the actor and character intermingle in such a way as to make it difficult to tell what is the actor, what is the character. In a good way.
The supporting actors are impressive. Robert Loggia plays Smilla's father with a dignity and mystery that is instantly captivating.
The plot development is wonderful. As the case goes from the extremes of simple rationality to the somewhat fantastic, there's consistency in character that makes the plot seem so credible. The film is slow, but it's consistent. That is, there are no pacing issues; the film maintains an appropriate pace, methodical describes it best. It builds in such a way that it works and it feels natural. Given the developments, the pace at which the plot progresses excuses the utter lack of surprise the characters possess (or rather don't) when the extraordinary factors enter.
Smilla's Sense Of Snow is not a science fiction, it's true drama. It's realism in the most realist vein; sometimes the most extraordinary things do happen. This is, essentially, a murder mystery and it comes together wonderfully.
For other dramas that push the envelope, please visit my reviews of:
The Adjustment Bureau
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull
For other movie reviews, please check out my index page on the subject by clicking here!
© 2011, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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