“That’s what people in the best place say to people in the worst place.”
Who knew the activity on a train could be so riveting? In the world of Snowpiercer, the the surface of Earth is uninhabitable. Back in 2014, a experiment was done to combat rising temperature levels, but all that did in fact was cause a new ice age. Almost all of humanity has perished, save for the lucky few who were able to board a train known only as the Snowpiercer, equipped with the amenities and necessities that Earth provided.
If only these were available for everyone on the train. For those like Curtis (Chris Evans), Edgar (Jamie Bell), and others, they have been subject to a miserable existence on the tail end of the vehicle. Oppression can only last for so long though, and a revolution is on the horizon, and Curtis reluctantly takes it upon himself to lead his oppressed comrades to the front of the massive transit system. Going forward and pressing onward is essentially a suicide wish, but a better reality than what currently exists.
It isn’t often that a movie is able to mix the best of both worlds; those worlds being the large scale and feel of big movie blockbusters, and more independent, art-house fare. Delicate line, but one that Snowpiercer and its director, Joon-ho Bong (The Host) toe pretty masterfully. Yours truly is definitely late to the party, with this being out a while as of this time of writing, but being late is better than never
coming viewing at all. Snowpiercer has it all: A sci-fi message, underlying horror, brutal action, and moving drama.
Out of the gate, it is clear to see that Bong has effectively created a distinct setting, and as the film goes on, settings within the main setting. Initially, the interiors are worn-down, beat-up, and have seen better days, and yet, they look in better shape than the inhabitants of the tail end. They’re cold, dirty, hungry, and miserable, in stark contrast to their oppressors. As the revolts march further, the settings change around them, giving Bong a great excuse to flex his cinematographic muscle.
Bong creates the setting, but he also gives life to it by way of amazing visuals. While it would be real easy for the train to feel really small, the director provides more than enough shots that exhibit the scale of what has to be traversed, in the process providing a nice view of the snowpiercer as it, well, pierces through the white stuff. These are awesome shots, but the movie also excels during its moments of action, which is presented in a very unique way.
The style cannot be fully-defined as shaky-cam, but it is slightly disorienting. This may annoy some, and it did me initially, but the more I thought about and saw it, it is a perfect stylistic choice. Showing the action in this semi-chaotic way allows us to see it through the eyes (literally and figuratively in some cases) of those in the fray. The violence isn’t glorified, but treated as necessary for both factions for varying reasons. Aiding the choreography is the flawlessly mixed sound, from a score perspective and an effects one. Production-wise, this gets every drop out of its budget.
Class warfare is a common theme found in many movies, but it can be tough to pull off. A movie can either be up front to what they are pulling off, or attempt to do so with a more subtle touch. This one takes the former approach, making no surprises as to what this is about. At the risk of giving away too much to those who have still yet to see, I’ll try to make this as vague as possible. In the opinion of yours truly, Snowpiercer doesn’t have a definitive message, but that is a great thing. It really can be interpreted in a bevvy of ways, which is what a well-done science fiction should do. It is a mind stimulator, forcing the individual to think throughout. As a whole, the pacing is consistent, with only a little bit of a lull in the early stages before a steady, sustained effort comes about.
No stranger to a leading role, Chris Evans trades in his shield for a hand axe here. As Curtis, Evans plays the hero once more, but a reluctant and unwilling one this go-around, with much more baggage to this character. Known more for being an integral lynchpin in the Marvel universe, I have always felt that Evans brought a lot to Steve Rogers, and his character was tougher to nail as opposed to his other, more “over-the-top” or “not-of-this-world” brethren. He is very convincing here, able to hold his own obviously in combat, but also, and most importantly, in dramatic scenes. Honestly, “hold is own” is an understatement—Evans turns in career-best work here. Like steel getting stronger and stronger in the forging process, so does Evans’ performance as the movie progresses, comprised of many layers and feelings.
Also submitting strong performances are Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, and John Hurt. All provide support to the story, but it is Swinton’s character of Mason who stands out prominently as a complete whack-job. Immediately upon her appearance, she wastes no time in creating someone who is so despicable. From the way she dresses, to how she gives off body language, we want to see her get her comeuppance.
Yours truly did feel that she was a tad bit over the top here or there in a hammy way, but channeling Mussollini, Hitler, and other infamous leaders may do that. Perhaps of less familiarity to American audiences are Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko. Even in another language, the emotion these two conjure up when needed is evident. Everyone here, large role or small, does their part to the best of their abilities.
At the restraint of saying more, Snowpiercer is for anyone that desires a smart, unique, well-acted, and visual science fiction film. In no way does this belong in the tail section, it has a place near the very front.
Photo credits go to impawards.com, kickseat.com, tonightatthemovies.com, and insidemovies.ew.com.
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