‘Snowpiercer’ is a ride worth taking


Title: ‘Snowpiercer’

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Release date: Aug. 1, 2013

Country: South Korea

Rating: 5 out 5

‘Snowpiercer’ might be the sci-fi masterpiece of this generation. Really. It’s that good. Following a near production-halting dispute between Harvey Weinstein and director Bong Joon-ho, the movie looked like it might never see the light of day.

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After some backhanded dealings by the Weinsteins, the ‘Snowpiercer’ ad campaign was almost totally nixed and it was given a limited release before being put on video on demand. Despite projections, it made an unprecedented $6.5 million from video on demand alone.

Based on the French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige,” “Snowpiercer” takes place 17 years after a failed experiment to counteract global warming leaves the earth a frozen waste, the globe spanning train, “The Rattling Ark” houses earth’s last survivors. The poor live in the caboose and the rich in the front. The hesitant Curtis Everett (Chris Evans, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) leads a revolt to dethrone the nobles.

Curtis leads this world with brooding ferocity. Edgar (Jamie Bell, “Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2”), the world-weary Gilliam (John Hurt, “Hercules”), the maternal Tanya (Octavia Spencer, “Get On Up”) and the drug addicted father-daughter duo Namgoong (Song Kang-ho, “Thirst”) and Yona Minsu (Go Ah-sung, “Elegan Lies”) march alongside him. Acting as an agent for the megalomaniacal train president, Wilford (Ed Harris, “Pain & Gain”), Mason (Tilda Swinton, “Only Lovers Left Alive”) taunts the poor into submission.

Every performer brings his or her A-game, especially Evans, whose climactic monologue is wrenching and horrifying all at once. Spencer, in particular, is excellent in every scene, but Hurt has a serene magnetism that elevates his otherwise type-casted role. Each actor believes in his or her role and character, and director Joon-ho trusts them and the audience to put the more obscure pieces of the story together.

And what a story it is. “Snowpiercer” is arresting from the first minute. It’s immediately evident that the train is its own universe — a microcosm with class separation and social tensions. The turns come relentlessly and the twists are dizzying. The movie wastes no time in getting where it needs to go. By the time viewers step in, Curtis’s plans to take the train have already been set in motion. This gives the narrative a sense of momentum that doesn’t let up until the final frame.

On the downside, shots of the outside world are dodgy at best. Thankfully, the movie mainly focuses on the inside world.

And despite the shocking brutality of the inside world, “Snowpiercer” has a wry sense of humor. One absurdly bourgeois look from Mason is enough for a chuckle. With this tongue-in-cheek sensibility and Joon-ho’s characteristic style, the movie becomes something special.

“Snowpiercer” is a fast-moving vehicle that never lets up. The story is original, the acting exceptional and the style impossible to resist. If the viewer has a ticket to ride, this is one train he or she won’t want to miss.