(directed by Joon-ho Bong, 2014)
****+ (out of 5)
* * *
> Holy crap, what an adrenaline rush! This broad, ne0-gothic thriller is a teeth-clenching excursion from start to finish. If one does not think too deeply on the rather silly central conceit, but just gives oneself over to the journey, SNOWPIERCER is a thrill-ride of the highest order.
. In Korean director Joon-ho Bong’s singular vision, we visit another dystopian future, where the privileged few manipulate and control the exploited class, when, in the wake of a misguided effort to stave off global warming, a global ice age is accidentally unleashed. Most of humanity has succumbed. The remnants of civilization live their entire lives in perpetual motion inside a speeding train, traveling a great, yearlong loop across the dead globe, while waiting for the climate to warm sufficiently to support life. The ruling class occupies the many well-outfitted front cars of the train; the desperate worker class crowd into the bleak cabooses: a thinly-veiled allegory for the way we live our lives now.
. The big genius behind the whole perpetual-motion train is a mysterious figure named “Wilfred”, played by a proud, oily Ed Harris with his usual steely verve. Tilda Swinton is typically wonderful as his unctuous lackey, sending back lectures and barking threats to the lower classes at the back of the train, when they become restive or surly. But the ruling class goes too far, when they come for the children. Outraged and feeling they’ve nothing left to lose, the oppressed classes form an army, and led by reluctant hero Chris Evans, (Captain America) determine to fight their way to the locomotive or die trying.
. The obstacles are many and lethal, including heavily armed security squads and various defense mechanisms the rebels have to face as they arise. (When they enter a long tunnel, for example, and the lights are cut, they must run the gauntlet of violent police, armed with truncheons wearing night-vision goggles. For the rebels, it’s like being severely beaten by homicidal ghosts.) As they battle on to the next car, and then the next- the carnage is intense, though SNOWPIERCER is not as viscerally gory as I had heard, and the violence is necessary to deliver the considerable impact this furious nailbiter achieves.
. The band of rebels diminishes as they grow nearer the target. And here lies much of the fun, as they progress car-by-car through fully-realized environments that stand-in for the many aspects of a society on rails- like a community squeezed into one long strand of connected rooms: a barbershop, a spa, a green-house, an aquarium (!) and so much more that I wouldn’t want to spoil by detailing. Here we see some really great production design, as our hero gradually forces his way into the heart of the locomotive, and a confrontation with the mysterious billionaire visionary, the amazing (and banal) Willard.
. This stunningly-realized production was a very international project, featuring talent from across cultures, including Korean actors as well as familiar greats Octavia Spencer and that God of Character Actors, the ever-perfect John Hurt. The production design is uniform and dazzling throughout. SNOWPIERCER is just so imaginative and original, it rises above a contrived architecture to create what we may someday call an action classic.
> Just ask me again in ten years. I’ll bet SNOWPIERCER will be just as exciting in 2025 as it is today!
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