Escape From the Snow With SNOWPIERCER (2013)

Snowpiercer - PosterStreaming Video Review:  SNOWPIERCER (2013)

by

Michael Arruda

In the year 2031, the Earth is frozen and all life is dead, except for a group of survivors living on a fast moving train called the Snowpiercer, which travels around the world keeping its passengers alive, the last hope for saving humankind.

But on this train a class system has emerged.  The privileged few live in the front of the train, while crowds of the poor and underprivileged lived crammed in the train’s rear bowels.  This is the premise of SNOWPIERCER, a nail-biting science fiction action movie by Korean writer/director Joon-ho Bong.

Like all suppressed classes, the folks in the rear of the train long for a better life, for equality with those in the front.  They are led by a man named Curtis (Chris Evans) who has concocted a plan to lead the rebels to freedom.  Advised by the wise elder amongst them, Gilliam (John Hurt), Curtis and his rebels bide their time, waiting for the right moment to stage their revolt.

And it’s not just a matter of class.  The folks in the rear of the train are treated cruelly and inhumanely.  They are fed grotesque black protein bars, and when they disobey, their limbs are exposed to the frozen outside and then hacked off.  Their children are taken away from them.

Curtis enlists the aid of Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song) a drug-addicted escape artist who agrees to help them break through the multiple doors which stand between them and the front of the train on the condition that he be accompanied by a young woman, Yona (Ah-sung Ko).

The rest of the movie follows this group as they attempt to reach the front of the train, battling all obstacles in their way.

SNOWPIERCER is a highly entertaining very exciting movie that plays as smoothly and as riveting as any major Hollywood blockbuster, if not more so.  It’s a shame that this film didn’t enjoy a wider theatrical release.  It’s a keeper.

And for folks who like their futuristic action films dark, SNOWPIERCER truly satisfies.  It’s a hard hitting dreary and ultimately very violent movie.

Writer/director  Joon-Ho Bong has made a highly stylish futuristic action film, and it’s not mindless action, as it’s supported by a strong and creative story.  Bong also wrote and directed the Korean horror movie THE HOST (2006) a film that received a lot of positive buzz but left me underwhelmed.  I enjoyed SNOWPIERCER much better.

Bong co-wrote the screenplay with Kelly Masterson, based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette.  The story works on multiple levels.  It’s a high octane adventure thriller, as well as being a thought-provoking tale of class warfare.  It also touches upon the apocalyptic theme, something that seems to be increasingly prevalent in stories today, as the story examines how far people stray from their humanity, and how much effort it takes for people to keep it.  Curtis’ background story is a prime example, as the leader of the rebels started as anything but.  He had been reduced to the lowest common denominator of human, choosing to eat his fellow humans, including babies, before experiencing a rebirth as the future leader of his people.

SNOWPIERCER also has quite the cast.  Chris Evans, Captain America himself, is quite good in a role that is a far cry from the all-American superhero he plays in the Marvel superhero movies.  The last thing you’re thinking about watching Chris Evans as Curtis is that he’s the same guy who plays Captain America.  Curtis is a rough brutal character with a dark past and more than enough leadership qualities to go around.  The only question one wonders about is how long will Curtis remain a leader, or will he revert to his former self in the face of overwhelming resistance from the powerful forces embedded in the privileged front of the train.

Kang-ho Song is also very good as Namgoong, the mysterious shady character who offers his valuable assistance but can’t seem to go two minutes without wanting more drugs.  He’s the most interesting character in the movie, mostly because you’re never quite sure what his motivations are.  Ah-sung Ko is just as good as Yona, the young woman who Namgoong won’t let out of his sight, as he’s her personal protector.  She’s also clairvoyant, and her abilities to see what’s about to happen next prove very valuable to the rebellion.

Tilda Swinton is excellent as Mason, the irritating woman who is in charge of the soldiers who deliver food to the masses and punishment to those who break the rules.  Swinton played the icy White Witch in the NARNIA movies, and while she’s less cold here, she’s more annoying.  For most of the film, she’s the face of the privileged class, and she’s wonderfully aggravating.  It’s the type of performance where you’re just dying for her to get her comeuppance.

John Hurt lends his usual solid support as Gilliam, the wise old man who counsels Curtis, and Ed Harris shows up at the end of the film as Wilford, the cocky confident leader of the ruling class.

One drawback to SNOWPIERCER, and I’m not sure if this was just a result of watching this film at home on Netflix as opposed to on the big screen at a movie theater, was that the scenes of the Snowpiercer looked exceedingly cartoonish and CGI-generated.  While it was colorful as can be, it didn’t look all that real.

But other than this, I really enjoyed SNOWPIERCER.  If you like futuristic action films, especially those of a dark nature, then chances are you’ll like SNOWPIERCER.  It also has a stronger story than most.

Many folks considered this one of the best films to come out last year.  I can’t disagree.

Frustrated with all the snow falling this winter?  Take a ride on the SNOWPIERCER. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

—END—

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