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snowpiercer

I’m a sucker for dystopian and/or apocalyptic films. Perhaps that’s the product of being a child who grew up in the 70s and 80s with the ever present spectre of possible nuclear annihilation hanging over our heads like the Sword of Damocles. I can’t say for sure. What I can say is that films like Nicholas Meyer‘s The Day After, John Hillcoat‘s The Road (based on the fucking amazing novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy) and especially Alfonso Cuarón‘s recent Children of Men hit a spot where others cannot. Bong Joon Ho‘s Snowpiercer gives them all a run for their money because it shows something that none of the other films like it – utopia and dystopia working in conjunction with one another to balance what is left of the human race. The juxtaposition that this creates is unexpected and powerful. Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige written by Jacques Lob, Benjamin LeGrand and Jean-Marc RochetteSnowpiercer gives us the action film that most summer blockbusters attempt to achieve but rarely deliver. 

snowpiercer_wilford_promo

The film’s opening hits home as details are given about a substance, CW7, that has been introduced into the atmosphere to combat global warming. What scientists didn’t expect was that it would act to cool the Earth so much that introduced an ice age that could not be stopped and caused the near extinction of all life on Earth. Had it not been for the foresight of an inventor named Wilford (played by Ed Harris), humanity would have died out. How did he save humanity you ask? Well, that’s a good question. He created a self-sustaining train with a perpetual route circumnavigating the planet that housed the last of the human race.

Curtis (Chris Evans) and security expert Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song).

Curtis (Chris Evans) and security expert Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song).

Flash forward 17 years…the train is still going. However, as we immediately are place in the tail of the train, the “back of the bus” in the future, life is not so good for those who live there. Filthy, emaciated, stacked on top of one another and threatened by armed troops, life really couldn’t be any worse. It is here we are introduced to our protagonist, Curtis (Captain America himself, Chris Evans). He is disillusioned about the station of life of everyone in the tail section. He is vocal and pissed and he has a gang of like-minded people surrounding him.

Gilliam (John Hurt), sage of the tail section.

Gilliam (John Hurt), sage of the tail section.

However, Curtis and everyone else are led by a hobbled, one-armed, one-legged man named Gilliam (John Hurt). It is daily that they plot the uprising that will break them free of their oppression at the hands of Wilford and his goon squad. But waiting for that right moment has them all on edge. When the opportunity presents itself after two of the tail-riders’ children are stolen from them, Curtis and company incite an epic battle for control of the train. Flanked by his best friend Edgar (Jamie Bell), and the mother (Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer) and father (Trainspotting‘s Ewen Bremner) of the two boys taken, Curtis must make careful choices balancing his own thirst for revenge and his mindfulness to protect his mentor in Gilliam and the rest of his fellow tail-riders.

Mason (Tilda Swinton), caporegime of Wilford, scourge of the tail-riders.

Mason (Tilda Swinton), caporegime of Wilford, scourge of the tail-riders.

Along the way, Mason (Tilda Swinton) does her best to shut down the revolt by reinforcing to Curtis and company that Wilford loves them and takes great care of them. After all, they could be outside in the cold freezing to death (a careful reminder is shown later in the film of several escapees who made it only 7 steps from the train until the froze to death). Slippery as any dictator’s right hand is, Mason becomes a coveted target of Curtis and his fellow revolutionaries. After her capture, she agrees to aid them in their journey through the train to the sacred engine. As Curtis and his band migrate ever closer to the front, they are able to see just how wide the division of class is on the train and it makes the slum-like conditions that they’ve been forced to live in all these years all the worse providing more and more incentive for them to carry on.

Let's dance, bitches. A battle for the ages ready to begin.

Let’s dance, bitches. A battle for the ages ready to begin.

This film is as stark and claustrophobic as it comes. The tight spaces that confine what’s left of humankind constantly squeeze the characters until they nearly burst. Bong‘s superb direction keeps the audience engaged and invested and the script’s twists and turns are certainly enough to keep attention focused on the narrative, which keeps you guessing literally until the end of the film. While it is hard to believe that a scenario like this could actually happen (come on, a train that never stops and can produce its own food enough for all of the people riding it?), Bong sells it and I’m buying. This is one of the five best films I’ve seen all year and I think if people give it a chance, they might get something out of it. I will say this – there’s a reason that Harvey “Scissorhands” Weinstein wanted to cut 20 minutes out of this film – most Americans aren’t prepared for what’s depicted in this film (hint: shit is real and it isn’t designed to give you a happy bullshit resolution).  thaAnd we all know that Harvey is willing to take some chances (see Troy Duffy). Lucky for us, the film we will see if the director’s cut and frankly, I can’t imagine 20 minutes being excised from this film. I love that this is being released smack in the middle of tentpole, mindless summer movie season. It’s nice to have an alternative this time of year. And the performances are incredibly solid – Evans picks up where he left off in Sunshine, one of the most underrated films of the 2000s and Swinton is a knockout. The supporting cast is everything you’d expect. This is a just a finely crafted film from top to bottom. So get out there, bitches, and check this one out. It will leave you thinking after its over. That’s certainly a rarity in the May-August film window at the multiplexes.

Here’s the trailer: