Review: “Snowpiercer” is revolutionary both in style and substance

July 11th, 2014 at 7:52 am by under Entertainment
"Snowpiercer" poster courtesy The Weinstein Company

“Snowpiercer” poster courtesy The Weinstein Company

“Snowpiercer” (2014)
Rated: R for violence, language and drug content
Runtime: 2 hours, 6 minutes
Genre: Action / Thriller /Sci-Fi

My spoiler-free review:

“Snowpiercer” is a great post-apocalyptic thriller with action, drama, memorable visuals plus its claustrophobic setting, crazy characters, and high concept.  But in a bleak futuristic setting, it also  focuses on what humanity is left in these characters.
It’s an immersive sci-fi actioner and it’s an post-apocalyptic dystopian movie like you’ve never seen before!!!  I give it 8.0 out of 10… ”Snowpiercer” restores our faith that action movies can be less about big budgets and computer graphics and more about the story!

Warning to parents: this is not for kids, the movie is rated R for some very violent scenes, although not overtly graphic plus  language and drug content but also the emotional impact of life and death situations.

In the not-to-distant future of 2014 scientists are trying to reverse global warming with a chemical sprayed by planes in the upper atmosphere designed to cool the world’s temperatures.  Wisely, South Korean writer/director Joon-ho Bong doesn’t spend a lot of time on the science of the backstory, just presents it to us and quickly gets us to the story onboard the train, called “The Snowpiercer” 17 years later in 2031 where the only surviving humans are protected from the bitter cold outside.   We start in the back, and like the train itself, the story literally moves forward as the 3rd class passengers make the push from the tail towards the engine.

The train may have many cars, but its passengers are divided into two parts: a few cars at the tail with cramped conditions for more than one hundred 3rd class passengers… and the more spacious 2nd and 1st class accommodations towards the front.  While there is clearly a division along class lines, this is more than just who gets the better service on the train and the more spacious living conditions: this is about control.  Tilda Swinton’s ‘Mason’ and he boss wants to keep the residents of the tail where they are… in dirty squalor where all they eat are brown gelatinous protein bars.  ’Mason’  is a bonkers over-the-top character that preaches order to those crammed in the tail of the train.   The wardrobe of her and her ensemble of officials is clean, crisp, and colorful – in stark contrast to the drab and dirty look of the tail residents.  She preaches “know your place” to the group, but the message they’ve likely heard many times before is only stirring the pot than calming things down.   Swinton’s delivery and mannerisms make her authority questionable… she’s awkward in look and speak with her exaggerated overbite… but as we see, her methods are not … her brand of discipline for defiance is brutal.  The security force carrying out her orders are brutal.  They rip kids away from parents for clearly fake medical checks, they beat people, and severely punish anyone who questions authority.  They are not residents on the train, its like they are prisoners at a concentration camp that those in power are trying to control with fear.

Fortunately, the tail residents have ‘Gilliam’ and ‘Curtis’… John Hurt plays the wise old ‘Gillam’ who became the leader of the group years ago, as we find out later.  He makes the plans and dispatches wisdom and compassion to his people.  While his personality can certainly stand up to ‘Mason’ and the security thugs, its ‘Curtis’ who will physically lead his people towards the front of the train to takeover and reorganize life on the sophisticated locomotive.  ’Curtis’ (Chris Evans) is a different kind of hero, a reluctant hero who’s fighting for humanity and equality on the train, but he also wants to make sure he’s got it all figured out before making a push to front of train… as we learn later it’s because others have tried but failed before.  They are supported by Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Luke Pasqualino, Kang-ho Song, and Ah-sung Ko.  The cast of main characters are solid and because of the really good performances from them, we get a lot of character development in a short period of time… we know most of their names and who they are quickly: a close friend, a desperate mother, a ruthless protector, a man on a mission, and a daughter with special gifts.

The revolution is coming: In the buildup to the eventual violent action-packed revolt we meet key players, get some backstory, and character development BUT once the action begins, it barely stops to take a breath, only stopping long enough to examine the damage before we move to the next car.  During the push forward we get to see what is in the other cars closer to the front and a few looks outside, which is a relief after we’ve been cooped up in the tail for awhile.  We also learn that the train’s engineer is more than just the driver: he’s a leader who is deified with his followers practically worshiping him… it’s like his own special cult… everyone taught one way of thinking one way of acting… they are controlled by fear that if that train stops they will all die…. they seem brainwashed with rhetoric referring to those who think different as “old world”.

The movie is full of themes of humanity, morality, warnings about environment, science, government, and control plus ‘Curtis’ dealing with the cost of the revolution.  Its an apocalyptic story that puts the human condition under the microscope, showcasing different traits at their very basic level in different characters.  The class struggle drama mixed with the feel of a Nazi concentration camp breakout action thriller set in the science fiction genre of an apocalytpic future with as many twists and turns as the train’s circuitous route around the world.  ”Snowpiercer” is unpredictable … it goes places you might not expect and dispatches twists to keep you off balance… like recent genre changing movies “The Matrix” and “District 9″ before it, “Snowpiercer” is a revolutionary movie that sci-fi fans have to see… at least once!!!

MORE INFO (possible spoilers):

“Snowpiercer” 

Cast: Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ewen Bremner, Ah-sung Ko, Alison Pill, Luke Pasqualino, Vlad Ivanov, Adnan Haskovic, Emma Levie, Steve Park

Director:  Joon-ho Bong (“The Host”)

Writer(s): Joon-ho Bong, Kelly Masterson
Based on French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige” (1982) by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, Jean-Marc Rochette

The Plot: In a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off all life on the planet except for a lucky few that boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system evolves.

So what did you think?  Please post a comment!

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