|Courtesy of Radius-TWC and The Weinstein Company|
2014, 126 minutes
Rated R for violence, language and drug content
Review by Joshua Handler
Bong Joon Ho's Snowpiercer is an odd beast and one that holds up very well for repeat viewings. It features a near-perfect mix of exhilarating action sequences, phenomenal performances, smart plotting, and heart. The film takes place in 2031 A.D., 17 years after the Earth froze over. A chemical was released into the atmosphere that was meant to control global warming, but it ended up freezing the Earth, causing the surviving humans to board a train that would run eternally. The poor are in the back of the train, the rich in the front. After being mistreated for years, the people at the back end of the train begin a revolt, headed by Curtis (Chris Evans). Their goal is to get to the front to control the engine.
What makes Snowpiercer the visionary masterpiece that it is is the direction of Bong Joon Ho. The sense of imagination and excitement that he brings to each and every scene makes watching Snowpiercer a visceral experience. Unlike most action films, Snowpiercer only has 20 minutes of exposition before exploding into an action sequence so exciting and well-executed that it would serve as the climax in most other films. From there on out, the tension increases scene by scene, train car by train car, the action becomes more intense, and the drama becomes more riveting.
Snowpiercer is emotionally involving, which is to the credit of Bong Joon Ho, co-writer Kelly Masterson (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead), and the pitch-perfect performances from the entire cast. Chris Evans, best known for his performances as Captain America, has never been known to be a serious dramatic actor. However, Snowpiercer might change that. Evans brings a sense of pain and gravitas to Curtis. He's been scarred by the world of the train and he brings this pain to every scene. In the latter part of the movie, he delvers a monologue (the monologues, usually pace-killers, are nearly as compelling as the action sequences) that he nails.
Tilda Swinton also gives a standout performance as Mason, a maniacal woman who tries to keep order in the train. Swinton gives her kooky, jittery performance a dark dose of humor. Every word she utters, every hand gesture she makes is perfectly placed. Swinton, like always, inhabits this character (originally written for a man) and makes Mason her own. It's yet another performance of hers that nears perfection. Bong regular Kang-ho Song, Ah-sung Ko, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, and Ed Harris round out the supporting cast and all give memorable, deeply-felt, colorful performances.
Kyung-pyo Hong's cinematography is inventive, utilizing unusual camera angles and shooting the action so that it's always coherent. The graceful, yet forceful score by Marco Beltrami (The Hurt Locker, 3:10 to Yuma) underscores the action very well, and Steve M. Choe and Changju Kim's editing gives the film a tight pace and makes the action sequences balletic. Stefan Kovacik's art design and Ondrej Nekvasil's production design bring the world of the train to glorious life.
Overall, Snowpiercer is a wild filmgoing experience that's tightly-plotted and brilliantly-acted. Many directors don't transition well into English, but Bong Joon Ho transitioned quite beautifully. Snowpiercer is a film that both arthouse and mainstream moviegoers will appreciate and enjoy, and I cannot wait for everyone to get a look at it.