Overview: A large group of survivors board a train after a global warming experiment kills off most of the world’s population. Opus Pictures; 2014 Rated R; 126 min.
Direction: Joon-Ho Bong is one of the best directors in the world today. With a track record that showcases films like Mother and The Host, fans of the Korean director have come to expect high quality from each of his features. Well, what I didn’t expect from Snowpiercer is something this damn fun. On paper, this film seems shallow. A dystopian future where everyone is trapped on a train after some scientists botch a global warming experiment? While I’m immediately sold, the accessible and obvious set-up might disappoint diehard sci-fi fans who expect to work for their interpretation. The straightforward “Save the kid, defeat the class system, they are eating steak in my face” thing doesn’t require a deep, analytical dive of the viewer. But, Bong delivers a standard recipe with enough confidence and assurance to lend a refreshing flavor. This film excels in comfortably subduing the intensity of its claustrophobic, futuristic setting and focusing on the battle between the back of the train (the poor) and virtually every other section of the train (the better off to the very rich). Again, I commend this presentation with full awareness that thinly-veiled sci-fi class metaphors are as tired a trope as any in film, but I also steadfastly insist that Bong holds the right notes to keep his film feeling fresh. At its best, Snowpiercer illustrates the contemporary culture of social stratification but also measures the value of any social mindset that leads to a prioritization of human life.
The Cast: Chris Evans lends his talents as the film’s main character, Curtis. Evans is at his best here, a surprising elevation from a stellar super-performance earlier in the year. The leader of the revolt and the center of most fighting sequences, Evans borrows and delivers the now reliable element of badass righteousness. Snowpiercer marks the young actor’s best performance to date. Outside of Evans, appearances are made by an assorted cast of recognizable (and unrecognizable) actors: Kang-ho Song, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer. But, there is one other who shines in her role. Tilda Swinton is a revelation as Mason, the main antagonist in the film. The physical and character-based transformation into the film’s eccentric, loud mouthed villain is hypnotic. At this point in her career, Swinton uses every role to punctuate and highlight her status as one of the most versatile, impressive actresses currently at work in film.
The Final Battle: Snowpiercer has a lot to offer: top-grade Summer action sequences (including one of the best fight sequences I’ve ever seen) and a cohesive, intelligent story uncommon to the theater season. On top of it all the film has a visually striking style that rivals the top contenders. In a perfect world it would get a nod for best cinematography at the Oscars. Snowpiercer is one of the best so far this year.