When a film breaks with tradition to marry stunts, explosions and effects with realistic characters and bizarre philosophies, you get cynical. And Smilla's Feeling For Snow (based on Peter Hoeg's bestseller) is a patchy mongrel of a movie. On the one hand it's an intelligently-structured, sci-fi psychic thriller, with Danish director Bille August (Pelle The Conqueror) proving it's possible to blend an action-packed crime thriller with an arthouse slant. On the other, it's a bizarre movie with a wacko plot. But then you can't have everything.
There's hardly time to catch your breath as Ormond's Smilla ("The only thing that makes me truly happy is mathematics. Snow, ice, and numbers") unravels a series of tiny clues to the boy's death, finding herself in numerous 007-style tight spots. But while other thrillers are satisfied with delivering predictable plots and caricatured characters, Ann Biderman's (Copycat, Primal Fear) well-sprung script supplies each scene with dialogue that deals well with fashionably intellectual issues such as Smilla's cultural identification and Hoeg's philosophies.
At last, Ormond's been given a role in which she can flaunt her talents. Forget the seductive heroine in Legends Of The Fall, or her stifled and forgettable turn in Sabrina. Here she displays intelligence, depth and measured strangeness ("The way you have a sense of God, I have a sense of snow") and turns in a believable performance. Redgrave is impressive as a personnel director turned religious nutter, and Harris displays charismatic menace. But Gabriel Byrne lacks the intensity he had in The Usual Suspects and Miller's Crossing.
It's hard to say too much and not reveal the story, but it involves a meteorite and evil goings-on off Greenland. Smilla shows that a gripping film, full of action, can have intelligent, authentic characters. But will the Hollywood moguls learn from this? We doubt it.
A surprisingly action-packed and fast-moving Scandinavian thriller with the added bonus of having something deeper to think about. Moody, tense and atmospheric, even the oddball plot can't detract from the strangely intriguing momentum. Captivating.