Judge Alice Nelson has forgiven Germany for their fascination with the music of David Hasselhoff.
"Walter, this is the perfect job for you."
Only the second feature film from German writer/director Tomasz Thomson, the dark comedy Snowman's Land almost never made it to the big screen, because in Germany genre films have problems raising funds. But Tomasz had an ace up his sleeve. Instead of just sending out his script to possible investors, he shot a trailer to tease interest in the script, which worked like a charm. Despite its dark subject matter, this is a charming little film about an inept hitman on the road to redemption.
Facts of the Case
Walter (Jürgen Rißmann) is a hit man, but he's also a bit of a loser. After killing the wrong target, he has to get out of town for a while and let things cool down. So he takes a job working for a sleaze named Berger (Reiner Schöne) at a remote mountain getaway. Walter's told it should be more "vacation" than work, but it isn't clear just what kind of job he's being hired to do. What could possibly go wrong on a week-long gig in an idyllic spot in the mountains? Lots actually, especially when an even bigger loser named Micky (Thomas Wodianka) is your partner on this mystery job. When Micky's hair-brained actions lead to the death of Berger's wife, Walter and Micky must keep Berger from finding out what happened, so they don't end up swimmin' with the fishes.
Shot in the wooded mountain range of the Black Forest, Snowman's Land is a surprisingly serene film. Rißmann was Thomson's first choice to play Walter, the apathetic hitman, and he is fantastic in the role. It's hard to make apathy interesting, but Rißmann does just that, and in doing so brings a certain amount of depth to Walter, making him more than a mere shallow dunce. He looks and acts the part of a loser, dressed in shabby clothes, with a cheesy mustache and long stringy and greasy hair, because he believes he is one, and that a killer for hire is all that he can do.
Walter's callous disregard for his life and the lives of others changes when he meets up with Micky. Walter has to take on the role of older and wiser brother to Micky's cocky arrogance, which causes him to make rash decisions that endangers both their lives. Because of a metal plate in his head, Micky feels invincible. Unfortunately, it also makes him immune to the feelings of others, because he scarcely notices that Walter has little patience for him. Instead, Micky the dreamer sees a partnership forming between the two, one that could take over for Berger, if he were to suddenly die.
Reiner Schöne is wonderful as Berger. The acting veteran spent 20 years in Hollywood, working alongside such legends as Clint Eastwood in The Eiger Sanction. Like all Thomson's characters, Berger is so much more than just a thug. This wannabe big time gangsta has grand plans for his mountain retreat and needs the help of Walter and Micky to keep his plans on track. If you picture Berger's snowy hideaway as some cozy log cabin tucked away in the mountains of Eastern Europe, wipe that image from your mind. This film does nothing ordinary. An empty sanatorium was used for this cold sterile environment, set against the backdrop of the beautiful white snowy countryside, a typical turn of convention for Thomson.
Snowman's Land often plays more like a straight comedy than a dark one. The humor works because the script is clever. Thomson doesn't take short cuts to garner cheap laughs, nor overuse the gory elements of his characters' chosen profession. Like most good films, what sticks with you after the credits roll is the quality of the characters themselves. Thomson's fine writing is amplified by a cast that bring his characters to life in a way that elicits unwarranted sympathy for people who choose to live on the seedier side of life.
Presented in standard definition 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, this low budget film looks anything but. Thomson shot the entire movie digitally, allowing for more takes and on set post-production facilities. The Dolby 5.1 Surround mix highlighted a soundtrack that was almost a character in and of itself. This original score was written by a Canadian band called Born Ruffians, whose lead singer and guitarist Luke Lalonde delivers songs that are haunting but hopeful. His unique vocals are a perfect fit for this quirky and quite enjoyable film. Bonus features include a rather informative featurette highlighting the ups and downs of bringing Snowman's Land to the big screen, as well as the film's theatrical trailer.
Intertwining violence with humor can often prove awkward, but the talent of Tomasz Thomson makes it all work beautifully. Though Snowman's Land moves along at a slow pace, the experience is anything but dreary. I can't wait to see more from this talented filmmaker.
Achtung Baby! This flick ain't Guilty.
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