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SNOWPIERCER (review)

Review by Benn Robbins
Produced by Park Chan-wook, Lee Tae-hun,  
Park Tae-jun, Dooho Choi, Robert Bernacchi, 
David Minkowski, Matthew Stillman
Screenplay by Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson
Story by Bong Joon-ho
Based on Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, 
Benjamin Legrand, Jean-Marc Rochette
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Starring Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Go Ah-sung,
 Jamie Bell, Alison Pill, John Hurt, 
Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris

Snowpiercer, the new action, science fiction, drama by Korean director Joon-ho Bong (The Host, Mother) is even better than I had hoped.

In fact, it is pretty damned amazing.

The story, the stunning visuals, the acting  and directing are all top notch and as fast-paced as the unstoppable train itself.

This film is meticulously crafted and relentless.

Based on a 1982 French graphic novel entitled Le Transperceneige written by Jacques Lob and illustrated by Jean-Marc Rochette, it is the story of the last group of surviving humans who’s miracle ‘ark’, a train, hundreds of cars long, has become their prison.

After a horribly failed ‘solution’ to global warming froze the Earth solid all life on Earth was wiped out. That is except for a few survivors. Their last hope was this enclosed eco-system and totally self-sufficient train created by a man named Willard. Willard has become an almost mythological figure, at this point, by the population of the train. He and the sacred, never stopping engine have never been seen before and control everything.

Various class systems have evolved over the train’s 17-year run on its infinite, closed loop track that spans the globe. In that time, the back of the train have become ‘the slums’. Tired of everything from food and water to other necessities ‘running backward’ and being left with the scraps and the refuse of the rich, at the front of the train; an uprising is eminent.

Curtis, a man born before the great freeze, leads the back of the train to revolt and with the help of sagely old Gilliam, played by John Hurt (Alien, Hellboy), the brains to Curtis’ brawn, hatches a plan to take over the train and bring equality to the people suffering in squalor in the rear compartments.

Chris Evans (Captain America, The Avengers) is fantastic as Curtis. He plays the role with gravitas, intensity and caring. He brings a likability and intelligence to the role and you wouldn’t think twice about following him to your death for his cause. Tilda Swinton is magnificent as the authoritative and first-class citizen, Mason. Almost unrecognizable, Swinton, once again disappears in her role.

Conniving and deliciously privileged and entitled Mason is the perfect antithesis to Curtis. Curtis’ right hand man, Edgar, (Billy Elliot‘s Jamie Bell) and bad ass mother, Tanya (The Help star Octavia Spencer, who’s child is taken near the beginning of the film for reasons unknown and Ewen Bremmer (Trainspotting) as Andrew, who is disciplined for throwing a shoe at Mason all join Curtis in the taking of the sacred engine of the train. Along the way they acquire the help of the trains designer and drug burn-out, Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song, The Good, The Bad and The Weird) and his daughter Yona (Ah-sung Ko, The Host).

Some of the things that struck me about the film, as I watched it, was director Bong’s ability to create perfect classicism and rank in each car as the rebellion marches forward. He also conveys the working eco system and the perfect balance that is needed to maintain order and a sustainable society within the confines of the speeding locomotive.

Visually this film is stunning and basically perfect. The fight scenes are expertly choreographed and the cinematography is gorgeous whether is is a close quarters axe fight with 200 people or a serene moment between two characters pondering their future. Each shot is purposeful and executed with grace.

As the up-risers get closer and closer to the front of the train and the sacred engine things get stranger and stranger. Decadence and excess become greater and greater and as the well to do folk of the front try to make their ‘world’ more and more like the world as it was the more and more that world seems ridiculous and absurd. Stuck on a train, grasping for the amenities of the past but without the resources you get a mishmash of styles, cultures and tastes that clash at best.

When all is said and done, in the end this story is about people. About their class and status. About what is right and wrong. About making the hard choices. It is a microcosm of the world today.

A world, Bong, screenwriter, Kelly Masterson and original graphic novel creators Lob and Rochette all question whether it is worth saving in the first place.

One of the best films I have seen this year so far, Snowpiercer is great cinema. Not just for sci-fi fans.

I hope you get a chance to see it.

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