Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer Movie ReviewRadius — The Weinstein Co.
Rated R for violence, language and drug content.
Running time: 126 minutes.
Three and a half stars out of four.

It’s so hard to describe how amazing “Snowpiercer” is without giving away everything that makes it amazing. I’ve actually been putting off writing about the film for that very reason, even though it totally wowed me. But I shall try. I am a professional, dammit.

Suffice it to say, the latest from Korean director Bong Joon-ho (whose work includes the thrilling and darkly funny monster movie “The Host”) is constantly inspired and full of surprises. Its structure and its socioeconomic allgeory may call to mind other great cultural works but it’s a true original. And it’s nothing short of wondrous to look at in varied, detailed ways.

As director and co-writer (with playwright Kelly Masterson), working from the French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige,” Bong finds a clever way into the overplayed premise of survival within a post-apocalyptic future. A failed climate-control experiment plunges the planet into a new ice age. The remaining stragglers are piled into an enormous train that makes a loop around the globe annually. By the time we join up with these passengers, they’ve been circling for more than 17 years.

At the tail end are the have-nots: the dirty, hungry and oppressed who are crammed together, doing whatever they must to live another day. For the most part, these are decent folks who’ve learned to co-exist peacefully, if miserably — but desperation does scary things to people, and the recounted examples of sacrifice are chilling. Their reluctant leader is Curtis, played by a quietly powerful Chris Evans. He’s almost unrecognizable here as a darkly brooding anti-hero in a thick beard and knit cap; it’s the farthest thing from the shiny Captain America persona that made him a superstar.

Curtis and the young, irreverent Edgar (Jamie Bell) lead a group in an ambush against the train’s heavily-armed security force and its prim, persnickety administrator, played by Tilda Swinton in garish hair and makeup that makes her almost as hard to recognize as Evans is in his role. Swinton is a hoot playing a truly awful human being, but being the thoughtful and versatile actress that she is, she finds a way into this cruel and condescending figure without devolving into caricature.

And so Curtis, Edgar and their team force themselves forward, from one car to the next, evenutally with the help of the drugged-out security expert (Song Kang-ho) and his equally spacey daughter (Ko Ah-sung). They’re ultimately aiming for the front and for the man who not only invented the train but placed everyone inside of it: the wealthy and powerful Willard, who’s regarded with equal amounts of admiration and contempt, depending on whom you’re asking. Seeing who plays him is one of the film’s many exciting discoveries.

From here, talking about “Snowpiercer” gets tricky. Opening the doors to each new car provides a rush of possibility, with Marcos Beltrami’s propulsive score underneath. Each represents a beautifully realized, self-contained world. Each is impeccable in its production and costume design. And while several of these cars — which cater to the wealthy among the survivors — offer abundance and pleasure, an inescapable sense of peril lurks underneath.

Bong does dazzling things with lighting to differentiate not just between all these miniature universes but also between the indoor and outdoor worlds and between light and dark. As Curtis and his crew press on toward the front — moving from the bleak and monochromatic to the lush and colorful — they realize that these fancier cars have windows providing a glimpse of the specactularly snowed-in world all around them. One sequence over a towering bridge is especially thrilling, as is a later moment when the train is rounding a giant curve and the front and back ends are tantalizingly visible to each other.

The director also makes dramatic use of night-vision goggles when the train enters a long tunnel, as well as the equally powerful way the masses respond with fire — concocting an impromptu torch relay from the back of the train that’s so joyous in its rebellion and visual purity, it made me want to cry. Other moments are striking because they’re just so surreal — an uneasy dinner, or a perky classroom full of children.

But in a way that’s reminiscent of “Apocalypse Now” and even “The Wizard of Oz,” things get stranger and more dangerous the closer Curtis gets to his destination. Dark humor is disrupted with blasts of bloody gunfire, the product of longtime, simmering class tension. There’s also more than a little bit of Ayn Rand in here: A wealthy industrialist dreamed of building a great train line, and the result is a place of economic disparity where the inhabitants are expected to fend for themselves.

The intentionally cryptic conclusion suggests that something better may be out there — for everyone — after all.

 

24 Comments on “Snowpiercer

  1.  by  Dan Heaton

    I’m right with you on Snowpiercer and had so much to say that it was hard to figure out where to start when I wrote about it. That moment with the torches is one of the great “hell yeah!” moments of the year and is presented with such grace that it’s beautiful and rousing at the same way.

    I agree that it’s tough to step around spoiling too much when talking about this film. I knew very little about it beyond the basic premise and the cast and crew. I think that helped in not setting up expectations for the kind of movie it was. I had no idea what was coming just like the characters.

  2.  by  Ed Smith

    Love the review and the movie. It is one of those wonderfully layered story and you did a great job of reviewing the movie without revealing the things that make this movie special. Personally when I watched it, it felt like a wonderful book, each new scene was the turning of a page as you eagerly read each word. This movie has a great marriage of dialog and movement.

  3.  by  Christy Lemire

    Thanks, guys! I’m glad you sought the film out and enjoyed it. I’m sure it’ll end up on my top-10 list at the end of the year.

  4.  by  Christian Toto

    Approached this film with great caution. Global warming … again? More class warfare? Sheesh. Yet the film is madly inventive, visually stunning (but not in a break the bank way) and surprising until the final frame. How often do we get that on screen? Glad it’s doing well on VOD …

  5.  by  Guy LeFilm

    Maybe the internet-wide praise led me to have bloated expectations about this movie, but I was extremely disappointed. And just like Christy found it hard to describe how amazing the movie was without giving it away, I find myself in a similar situation, soooo….

    SPOILERSSSS AHEADD !!! (If you’re reading bottom-to-top, sorry… you’ve missed this announcement….but why would you do that ?!?)

    I can waste your time (and I will…) mentioning the many ridiculous logic gaps this movie makes:

    …..the last piece in the rebellion catalyst comes in the final seconds (Chris Evans points the gun to himself and shoots.)…YES OF COURSE a little random, throwaway line convinced him there are no bullets in those guns….what’s your problem..??

    CLEARLY people that should be suffering from malnutrition can fight and overcome better-equipped, trained, well-fed soldiers .

    Guy that got shot and stabbed in the sauna, randomly gets up an hour later, and seems almost totally fine (he’s up for a fight, at least)…sureee thing

    YUP, of course 17 years is enough to raise Wilfred to God-like status…and to bring the Hat vs. Shoe paradigm to an agreed-upon social order……I mean, many people on that train are still old enough to remember American Idol. They know what’s upp….even a little bit…

    And yea, the little translating device….sometimes they need it, sometimes they don’t….wrap your head around THAT!! (sure, sure….pacing problems, creates an awkward drama-stifling technicality for people to wait for the translation… like it’s a UN meeting or something……maybe I’m nit-picking on this one)

    Okay…I’m not a complete asshole…I can get on-board with some of the above….suspend disbelief a little bit…. BUT the main one, the most unforgivable-point-of-the-whole-goshdarn-movie logic gap issss….the people in the tail-end of the train….WHY ARE THEY THERE??

    If the people in the front are such rich-evil-heartless-calculating bastards, why did they even allow these other people to exist ??….THEY SERVE ABSOLUTELY NO PURPOSE…..except to drain resources (protein blocks don’t grow on trees y’know…..maybe the ingredients do..? iunno…)

    Sure, once in awhile it’s nice to listen to an expert violin player, but honestly….these cold, calculating Ayn Rand fans would not care about that too much. Why overload the train with 1000 useless people ?? Especially if resources are scarce…. it makes zero sense to me.

    It might even help their poor vs. rich allegory if the tail-end people were enslaved….if they were doing some sort of hard labour (an “o”…?? “canadian-speak!!!”) to ensure train-maintenance… or something…. >_>

    But no, they just kinda chill in the back…becauseee….______…..???!

    Okay, Ed Harris gave some bullshit explanation about thinning the herd
    once in awhile, with the made-up Revolts…”yup, that’s why we need a couple hundred more people, so they can get mad at their crappy, oppressed life… kill a few of us, then get killed themselves…. sparing us the un-enviable and frankly…”icky” task of having to “choose” people to kill off……A sort of …subtraction by addition….” When you could’ve just..subtracted them in the beginning….there was no..”let’s keep the illusion that we care about them”…they kill them with impunity….the “caste system” serves no purpose

    So many times in movies like these, supposedly intelligent characters choose to act out the most elaborate and needlessly complicated “solutions”, when a much easier one should exist.

    Then, suddenly….disbelief becomes…..un-suspendable, if that’s a word….I don’t think it is, but it should be..

    I don’t know….maybe a more intelligent movie-goer could explain why the tail-end people exist. Except to shoe-horn in a sort of class-warfare angle in this….

    •  by  Webb Buckely

      I’m with you, man. I’ve seen a lot of stupid movies in my days but this may be the stupidest. You are correct. Nothing in this film makes a nano-gram of sense. As for the allegorical nature of it, come on, that “lower class in the back” has been a cliche since Lang’s “Metropolis.” A film which doesn’t even bother to try and generate a shred of believeability is not worthy of my attention, as it clearly has no respect for my intelligence.

      •  by  Boscoe

        Oh thank god, I thought I was the only one who thought this movie was rage-inducingly horrid. The visuals were nice and the acting was solid, but otherwise it was a nonstop WTF fest in the worst possible sense.

        I wanted to punch the movie in the neck when Curtis randomly reveals in the middle of the third act that he used to be a guy who’d murder a woman so he could eat her baby because babies taste best. GRRRRRRAAAARRRRR ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? Not to mention the complete lack of internal logic in Gilliam, the man who chopped off his own arm and leg to feed assholes like Curtis, was a turncoat all along? Man, for a mole that’s some pretty heavy method-acting right there.

        And the ending was ridiculous. So basically what we see is that other than developing enough respect for children to stop seeing them as food, his character never really changed as given the chance, Curtis willingly jacks up the train (but gives up his arm, so that makes it heroic?) and sets the stage for the last human survivors to be wiped out by an amazingly racially cliche duo of Asians who just happen to be super smart, a martial arts expert and mystical.

        And the polar bear clearly indicates that the intro text that told us “all life on Earth was wiped out” was a lie, so what’s that about then? Only humans can freeze to death? Lots of other animals actually survived, so the entire premise is bullshit? It’s actually perfectly indicative of the mindlessly manipulative writing on this drek that gleefully rapes any sense of it’s own internal logic if it can generate a cheap “shock”.

        And let’s no even stop to ponder the absurdity of the only guy who “knew” the scientists efforts to halt global warming would freeze the entire planet and kill everyone was billionaire train fetishist guy.

        Or that whole sequence where Curtis and Mr. Indestructible were shooting at each other through thick, nearly bulletproof glass when they were separated by at least a football field or two with scenery whipping by in between them. Yeah, that made complete sense, “lemme waste all my ammo shooting a hole through bulletproof glass so I can take an impossible shot that there was no prayer in hell of any human ever being able to make.”

        The only thing that would have been stupider than that scene would have been if one of them had actually managed to make the shot. SO I guess my opinion of this movie raises one notch because “it could’ve been worse”?

        •  by  Lumier

          Completely agreed. I’m all about originality and atypical storylines… but this movie was a complete waste of my time and energy. It’s one if those movies that critics are snob enough to praise, but has so many issues – aside from it simply being idiotic – that it easily qualifies to be named as the “fake artsy shit with some budget behind it” winner of the year. Praising critics should be ashamed of their tastes.

    •  by  ronson

      Nice review. I agree that a lot doesnt make sense. The ecosystem doesnt seem believable… And where do people even sleep? But the geneal idea is there. It definitely has a class warfare motif, since it literaly shows us that poor kids work in order for people to afford to do things like party on a train and get their hair done at a salon. The population control idea was iffy, but still made for a nice reveal… Cause at the end of the day, i enjoy movies where i dont know what will happen next (or whats behins the next door, ha) and this movie fit that bill. Could be better but still entertaining

  6.  by  Nick

    you’re both retarded. wilford, and the final 20 minutes of the movie explain clearly with both words and visual cues why the passengers are kept in the back and not killed off… they are needed to provide the children which are small enough to keep the engine operational.

    don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of examples of crazy unbelievable logic in this film, but sadly that was not one of them. how about the fact Jamie bell’s character was a baby when the train began and was raised/grew up totally on the train in the rear cars – yet he speaks with an English accent (Gilliam does too but that’s still 2 out of 1000), knows all about what steak tastes like and also apparently understands what a violin player is and a string quartet.

    anyways that was just one of many examples of this crazy movies logic… however you shouldn’t let that ruin or even affect the film as it really is well done. i enjoyed it thoroughly once i accepted the fact it was a fictional film like lord of the rings.

    •  by  Kevin

      You are completely wrong about that. While that is the reason he gives for the current need, that doesn’t explain why they started out there 17 years earlier.

  7.  by  Dan

    I never read movie reviews, but after falling for this very review, spending the $$ on Google just to watch this POS on a flight I had to stop by just to shake my head

  8.  by  Sean

    I always wonder what the people are like in real life who leave such negative reviews of a clearly amazing film. Go watch the national geographic channel if u want everything u watch to be realistic. This movie has stuck with me for many days. Loved it.

    •  by  Kevin

      It’s not realism we’re looking for, it’s logic. For the record, this movie was not clearly amazing, it was meh at best. You know how you can tell right away when a movie isn’t amazing? Script on the screen at the beginning of a film explaining things to you rather than using storytelling and film techniques.

    •  by  kb

      Uh…. people with brains? That’s my guess. Just because you liked it, it’s “clearly amazing,” huh? Anyone with a different opinion deserves to be insulted. I wonder if “in real life” people can see you behind your enormous ego. Lol

  9.  by  john lawler

    When Snowpiercer finally opened in Denver, I read but the first line of the above review, got off my raggedy old arse, and went to the movies. When I got home, my computer was still open on the same page. So I sat back down and finished reading your review. This one really did need to be experienced in a first rate theater setting. Just a belated thanks for the heads-up.

    PS: Your Willard/Wilford faux pas is so Freudian.

  10.  by  Jeanette Carlo

    Without any hyperbole, this film was one of the greatest science fiction movies of the past decade. It was that good. I think it’s plain to see that people that didn’t like this movie came into the movie with a closed mind or preconceived notions as to what it had to be.

    This film was just so amazing in so many ways and I especially loved the diversity of the cast and characters. Great review as always and thank you for giving me the heads up to look for this film and watch it!

  11.  by  Andy

    I just watched Snowpiercer on On-Demand with my 2 adult sons. The older one, an award-winning artist had read somewhere (here???) what an amazing movie this is and “buzz” about it online, whatever it was. Within 5 minutes of watching this movie, we were not impressed. By the end of the movie, we were awestruck how any intelligent person could love this movie, much less like it. There are so many inconsistencies, plot holes, and just plain physical impossibilities as to require one not only to suspend disbelief and knowledge of 5th grade science but all sense of logic,

    Please don’t call this movie original. Although many visuals and the movie atmosphere were well done via cinematography, this movie is a rehash of Mad Max, the Matrix, Alien, and all their rehashes with a lot of Terry Gilliam plopped all over. In fact, this looks like a rip-off of a Terry Gilliam movie that seems to want to amplify his worst excesses and indulgences.

    Please don’t call this movie brilliant allegory. Those that do obviously have never read a great allegory and probably don’t read books period. This is a dilettante’s idea of a good allegory. The themes of class warfare and Randian dystopia bleat like sheep and hit one over the head with brute force with no subtlety or depth. This movie is simply pretentious to the point of condescension.

    If you love overstated hammy acting, you’ll love this movie. There’s some great actors in it including Hurt playing a character we’ve seen him play so many times it’s painful and Harris of the solemn slow speaking and still, piecing blue eyes. His monologues sound profound, philosophical, and menacing. The key word is “sound”. This is like the cartoon version of Social Darwinism relayed by a third-rate knock-off of a Charles Dickens villain. The lead, Chris Evans, does a passable Keanu Reeves imitation for this movie and manages to be even more wooden. I guess Keanu wasn’t available…

    When this piece of crap was over I had to go check the reviews myself thinking my son must have read reviews for the wrong movie. He hadn’t. Although regular people on Amazon and Rotten Tomatoes were highly critical, EVERY SINGLE professional review was positive. That told me something was fishy. I’ve seen this happen before, when a pseudo political correctness takes over the cognoscenti and they delude themselves into groupthink for or against a movie. And of course many of the general public follow suit in self-delusion. In this case, I wondered if it was because of the current promotion of Korean cinema and the support of a seemingly powerful new director. I couldn’t believe that was it alone. So I kept researching. And I think I found the major reason.

    It turns out that Harvey Weinstein (producer) demanded that the director edit and change parts of his movie (probably for the better) or he would restrict US distribution. Bong not only refused but went public with his fight instigating formation of online and offline groups to protest this abominable censorship that no wanna-be Orson Welles would dare endure. Poor brilliant artiste… I think all these positive reviews are directly and indirectly derivative of this fight. I’m all for artistic freedom and integrity. But that doesn’t make this a good movie no matter how badly the professional critics want it to be.

    •  by  emily

      Oh My God Thank you! This movie hurt me – I had to sit through it with my boyfriend who simply could not bring himself to believe this movie and its stellar reviews was actually a rip off. I ranted the whole time through even though I tried to keep my mouth shut. It is so moronic and cretinous. there was not one single original moment in the whole thing. good actors made to perform horribly dull and asinine text. the hat and the shoe scene was infuriating. Seriously?? don’t tell me it’s done on purpose to serve as some sort of ironic dark comedy moment. It did not work! the tone was all wrong! if you want to play with contrasts you have to do it right. The movie took itself too seriously to work as a comedy and was too bizare to work as a realistic piece. A better use of that kind of clash in tone can be found in the Hunger games! not a master piece itself but a more honest movie and definitely better crafted to elicit emotion. One of the main problems is that this movie should have been an animation film. as a live action piece it fails miserably.

      So much is wrong with this film. it is all completely nonsensical. the “action” scene with the hatchets… someone has to explain it to me. why is the corean chick a psychic? it sort of is brought up for the purpose of I have no clue and then forgotten… why is there a cart of axe-wielding idiots wearing hoods OVER their eyes? so that the difficult task of killing people with a weapon that is meant to be swung in a small room packed with your buddies without maiming them can be even more challenging? and why the charade with the eviscerated fish? is that supposed to be symbolic? a deterant? a means of showing the hatchets were really sharp? WTF??? and why do they all look alike? same size same build? are they genetically engineered?

      The biggest mystery for me is how a “critic” can write the review above and sleep at night:

      “The director also makes dramatic use of night-vision goggles when the train enters a long tunnel, as well as the equally powerful way the masses respond with fire — concocting an impromptu torch relay from the back of the train that’s so joyous in its rebellion and visual purity, it made me want to cry.”

      How else are you going to use the night goggles? This scene is so absurd I also wanted to cry.

      every reveal in this movie was foreshadowed a mile ahead. it lacked any kind of subtelty. the only explanation for anyone genuinely liking this pile of insignificance is that there are too many people out there who have never been exposed to good movies! big studios keep churning tons of crap each year, but there but there many, many good movies and sometimes great ones that get made. this one is not one of them.

      anyway I don’t go on. I am not able to articulate a coherent response because just thinking of it makes me enraged. just a big thank you for all of those who took the time to write honest and well thought out responses to this review. maybe others will be spared the agony.

    •  by  vag_boob

      > Those that do obviously have never read a great allegory and probably don’t read books

      That would be 90+% of the world’s population, including this critic. Just pointing out the obvious.

  12.  by  caspergal

    Someone please tell me what the point of this movie was. I was very excited to watch it, I was in suspense until the very end when it all came crashing down to make no sense at all. Everything was explained, I understand the story but what I don’t understand was why the story was even told if everyone but 2 were going to die. What next? Sure the temperatures have risen and other cold enduring animals can live again, but they were ought to die anyway. With no heat sources, no other living beings to eventually find, no equipment to travel or hunt therefore having no food,and nothing to reside in as they slept they would die of hypothermia anyway. There is no future for them to continue into, and even if they could actually survive together until they could repopulate the idea of it all is very very unrealistic which makes the movie all so sad and seemingly pointless. I am crying over the suspension I lived through and being denied an ending that might’ve made the movie worth seeing. Please make it better.

  13.  by  OICJC

    My favorite part of the movie was what happened after the end credits, where the kids were mauled and eaten by the polar bear.

    •  by  kb

      Yeah that would have made it. But my favorite was this line (just imagine Chris Evans sobbing): “You know what I hate about myself? I know what people taste like. I know that babies taste best.” Hahahahahaha

  14.  by  Steven

    I just watched this film today, and I really liked it. I believe the film briefly touched on multiple reasons for the existence of the lower class. I can even imagine to myself a skeleton of a reason for the train itself. Watching it a 2nd time with a notebook might help and I’m not one who cares to see a movie a second time, but I do want to watch this at least once more soon. I don’t intend to note any particulars of the movie for people who haven’t watched it and to each their own so I’m not wanting to have a back and forth on reasonableness of the film. I just wanted to note that I enjoyed the film. I watched another film once with my brother and that film became my favorite while his comment at the end was worst movie ever seen. We all have different tastes. If anyone is on the fence have a look at it. Perhaps it’s one of those that you’ll like or not; but less likely to be stuck in the middle wondering what you thought of it at the end.