Snowpiercer (2014)

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Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan

Rated R

Chris Evans as Curtis Everett
Song Kang-ho as Namgoong Minsu
Jamie Bell as Edgar
Tilda Swinton as Mason
Go Ah-sung as Yona
Octavia Spencer as Tanya
John Hurt as Gilliam
Ed Harris as Wilford
Ewan Bremner as Andrew
Luke Pasqualino as Grey
Alison Pill as Teacher

Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer is an exhilarating and thrilling experience. The film is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette.

In 2014, an attempt to reverse the effects of global warming has backfired, and a devastated planet Earth has been reduced to a no-man’s-land permeated by snow, ice, and bitter cold. The Snowpiercer is a luxury train, traveling the globe on a seemingly impervious track. Humanity’s last survivors are aboard the train. To maintain order, the powers that be have imposed a class system. The rich and privileged ride near the front of the train, while the poor and impoverished are demoralized and abused in the train’s tail.

Seventeen years later, the train carriers on, but the inhabitants of the poor section stage a revolt, lead by the brave but weary Curtis (Chris Evans). They are able to push their way through several cars, but their efforts are halted by the twisted Minister Mason (an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton). The minister is off the rails, exacting cruel punishments with glee and condescending humor. The revolutionaries press on, and there are tragic sacrifices as they make their way closer to the front.

Evans, fresh from his box office success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, has never been better. Gone is the pretty-boy comic book superhero, and here is a real hero: flawed, frightened, ambivalent. Swanton adds another breathtaking performance to her résumé: she steals every scene she’s in. The cast is uniformly fantastic: Jamie Bell as Edgar, Curtis’s best friend; and Octavia Spencer, proving once again she is superb character actress. Who would have ever thought the Oscar-winner from The Help would make a killer warrior?

There are other great casting choices here, and one is so inspired (and reminiscent of one his great, Oscar-nominated performances of the past), I smiled when his identity was revealed.

Snowpiercer evoked memories of Dark City (1998), V for Vendetta (2006), and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), all mesmerizing science fiction thrillers from the recent past. The setting of the train is so claustrophobic and horrific, I felt as though I had entered a portal into another world. Some viewers may even find the experience reminiscent of classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Alien (1979).

Kelly Masterson, who wrote 2007’s gripping Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, penned the sharp, wry script. The Weinstein Company reportedly requested 20 minutes of trimming. Bong refused, and the film only received a limited release.

Snowpiercer is a real find, certainly the best film so far of the summer, and a finalist for one 2014’s best movies.

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