Step Onto ‘Snowpiercer’ And Hold On Tight (Movie Review)
Snowpiercer: 5 out of 5
Curtis: We take the engine, we control the world.
I enjoy science fiction stories quite a bit. Whether it ranges from plausible ideas regarding the future of our current society or to things a bit more abstract, I love the creativity on display. This especially goes for sci-fi films, which allow a large number of filmmakers, actors, production designers, etc., to develop worlds, stories, characters, and concepts, in an effort to put something truly audacious into the theater for people to enjoy. Sometimes that works out quite well, sometimes it is okay, and other times it can be forgettable. Snowpiercer is the kind of film that sits near the top of the pile. It combines skilled filmmaking, big ideas, and some fine, warp-minded writing to create a feature fully prepared to be entertaining, strange, darkly humorous, and plenty of other things that all make it rather brilliant.
Director Bong Joon-Ho is a filmmaker I have been enjoying for quite a while now. From the crime thriller Memories of Murder, to his satirical monster movie, The Host, and into his previous feature, the unconventional mystery/thriller, Mother, this is a filmmaker who has consistently built a grimy mood around his films, but has avoided being stuck in one particular genre. Now he moves from Korean-focused features and into a much broader realm, with an international cast of actors, for this bigger-budgeted sci-fi tale about society wrapped up in one long train, known as the “Rattling Ark.” The concept is very much ‘out there’, but Snowpiercer is less concerned with making literal sense and fits more in line with 70s sci-fi; where the cast, production, and plotting do enough work to have one look past a great handle on real life logic and more on what the viewer is watching in front of them, let alone the allegories bubbling just under the surface.
The film features Chris Evans as Curtis, one of the many passengers on a train that travels across the world and never stops. With the world having ended via some kind of “Cat’s Cradle” Ice-Nine situation, which has left earth frozen all over, the only remaining members of the human race are aboard this train, which is divided into sections. The upper-class live privileged lives in the cars towards the front end of the train, while the lower-class citizens live much drearier lives in the tail section. With awful memories of what it is to live this life, Curtis and a few others, including a much older passenger, Gilliam (John Hurt), have devised a plan to defy the system by taking control of the train at its head; they’ll just have to move up car by car in order to see this plan through.
There are only a number of directors that I could think of offhand that would be able to not only make this film work as far as its story goes, but really sell the look and feel of this world that we see, as more and more of the train society is revealed. What makes Bong Joon-Ho such an ideal choice for director and co-writer, is that the film is able to keep a lot of the weirdness intact, which tends to come from non-American filmmaking sensibilities. Adapted from a French graphic novel, Snowpiercer certainly follows a path that makes the story easy enough to comprehend, but it has many twisted ideas as far as how to deliver on a lot of them, let only find ways to convey its commentary on society, while still working as a tense action movie.
Oh yeah, by the way, this is a crazy action movie. It has all the right work done to establish a world, characters, and more, but even while fitting into the realm of science fiction, Bong Joon-Ho has put together a pretty incredible action movie, focused on the motivation of one man to overthrow the elitist class system at play. Setup, plot, and characters aside, Snowpiercer features some pretty fantastic action set-pieces, which plays on the confined corridors of train cars, the approach to lighting these train cars, a mix of deadly and improvised weaponry, and the wonderful talents of many choreographers and cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo. Adding the consistently solid score by Marco Beltrami only enhances the technical accomplishment that is on display, though the film is not limited to being just a very good-looking one, as the actors are certainly very game as well.
Chris Evans is absolutely terrific here. His Curtis may be buried in angst and a desire to shed the blood of those forcing him and others to live in such squalor, but Evans brings a level of spark to a role that has him work incredibly well in this fairly standard conception of an action hero, who is given some twisted backstory reveals, as the film carries on. Song Kang-ho, a truly fantastic actor from Korea, adds great energy as well, along with his co-star from The Host, Go Ah-sung. The two play father and daughter, with the father seemingly trading his knowledge of a certain aspect regarding the train’s security systems, in exchange for drugs. Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, and Ewen Bremner get to mix it up as fellow lower-class passengers as well, while Tilda Swinton emerges as a true show stealer, Mason, the Minister that dictates the rules of the road…or tracks, I guess. While the train is controlled by a figure known as Wilford, Mason tries to enforce order in person and Swinton puts all she can into it, by providing a wonderfully weird, villainous performance. I could go on in describing this cast of characters, but I want to stop, only because Alison Pill also pops up as a teacher that has to be seen to be believed.
Snowpiercer is a hell of a ride. The film is this big, bold piece of science fiction brought to life by a talented director and a cast and crew who were all doing their best to make a film like this work. They succeeded to the point of making me question what is in this film that I was not fond of and I could not think of anything. Between the excitement of the action on display and the nature of the metaphors at work, this is a film that works on many levels and one that I can easily see myself appreciating even more on repeated viewings. Many sci-fi films come and go, Snowpiercer feels like one I will not soon forget.
Mason: Know your place. Accept your place. Be a shoe.