After the Crash, Grim Snowpiercer and Its Trains Keep Grinding Along

After the Crash, Grim <i>Snowpiercer</i> and Its Trains Keep Grinding Along
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It's kind of happy-sad, like watching a kid you knew as a toddler graduate from high school: Chris Evans, seemingly destined to be a boy forever, is now officially a grown-up. In Bong Joon-ho's futuristic snowbummer Snowpiercer, the Korean director's first English-language film, Evans plays the leader of a group of have-nots who rebel against a bunch of haves, all stuck together on a high-speed train that perpetually circles the Earth, which a new Ice Age has rendered uninhabitable. Looking gaunt and bony beneath his drab, baggy threads, a knit cap pulled low on his brow, Edge-style, Evans is more like a cheerless hobo than an overgrown bro. Is that really a good thing?

Evans, a charming and rambunctious actor, should be allowed to grow up; no one can play Captain America or Johnny Storm forever. But Snowpiercer needlessly weighs Evans down, dragging us along with him. Even as dystopian dramas go, the picture is arid and lusterless in its more serious moments and unpleasantly kitschy when it tries to soar over the top. Not even Tilda Swinton, as a ruthless Margaret Thatcher stand-in with a prosthetic overbite, can keep it on the rails. She's rendered in tight, wrinkle-intensifying close-ups that flash-fry any wit or foxiness she might have brought to the role.

Swinton's outsized character, Mason, is a sort of prison warden in sensible woolen suits and enormous eyeglasses. She shows up early, a promise of more overkill to come. It's been 17 years since a massive freeze-out, caused by an attempt to reverse global warning, has wiped out most of life on Earth. The few human survivors have been herded onto a climate-controlled train that protects them from the sub-zero temperatures outside, though there's so much cruelty inside that some passengers must surely wonder if it's worth it. The front of the train harbors society's crème de la crème, people with plenty of food as well as access to beauty parlors, schooling for their piggy children, and a host of decadent nightclubby diversions that require them to writhe around in New Wavey outfits. In the back of the train languish the undesirables, a bedraggled bunch played by the likes of Octavia Spencer and Jamie Bell, who are forced to gnaw on shiny black "protein bars" that, we learn, are made out of something you really wouldn't want to eat. Quite a few of these underclass citizens, among them John Hurt's wise and wizened Gilliam, are missing arms and legs, for reasons that will eventually become clear. Evans's Curtis has had enough of this rich-vs.-poor divide: After enlisting the help of a drugged-out security specialist (played by Bong regular Song Kang-ho), he hopes to forge his way to the front and raise holy hell.

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Location Info

Map

Angelika Film Center New York

18 W. Houston St.
New York, NY 10012

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: Greenwich Village

Details

Snowpiercer
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Radius-TWC
Opens June 27, Angelika Film Center and Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center



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Snowpiercer is based on a 1982 graphic novel, Le Transperceneige, and even if you don't know the source material, you can see how it plays right into Bong's meticulousness as a director: He worked from detailed story boards, and it shows — the narrative moves from scene to scene with an almost defiant clarity, a welcome relief from the jumbled overload of so many mainstream movies based on comic books. His vision is a distinctly 1980s brand of futurism, carrying whiffs of Terry Gilliam's Brazil (Gilliam, presumably, inspired the name of Hurt's character) and Michael Radford's mostly forgotten George Orwell adaptation 1984 (in which, incidentally, Hurt starred). And the Snowpiercer itself, bullet-sleek but also marvelously articulated, like a jointed snake toy, is a nifty futuristic marvel: Bong comes up with some beautifully vertiginous point-of-view shots as the train, looking precariously lissome, zips along a track perched high above chilly, snow-covered valleys.

But the picture's aggressive bleakness, not to mention its sociocultural theme with a capital T, becomes tiresome long before Ed Harris, as the mastermind behind this whole socially striated train thing, shows up in a silk bathrobe (though admittedly, he does look pretty rad in it). Like Bong's previous movies, among them Mother and The Host, there's a streak of nastiness running through Snowpiercer. The violence is humorless and blunt. The idea, maybe, is that watching the setup for a particularly brutal amputation is somehow supposed to be meaningful because it's an accurate reflection of the depravity of humankind. But sometimes a limb whacking is just a limb whacking. Don't try to tell us it's good for us, like one of those protein bars made of — never mind.

 
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7 comments
mountainloafers
mountainloafers

This may very be too long of a rant for some folks but, I find it difficult to believe that you found the train itself to be "marvelously articulating" yet somehow blinded by tight camera shots of what may go down as one of Tildas most memorable and genius performances. Excitedly peering through her binoculars, relishing in the original, strangely orchestrated, brutal events about to unfold. "This is going to be good" she says, in a role chock full of lines and moments that provide the wit you suggest is lacking in the action scenes. Often breaking the tension, while simulaniously, setting the stage for it. It's is a masterful, appropriately dark, turn from one of the all time greats. Furthermore, Evans sets the pace throughout the perolous quest for freedom he and his fellow disenfranchised, revenge seeking travelers seek. Delivering something that is sorely missing from traditional summer box office hero's and far from the two dimensional Captain America that any Hollywood beefcake could easily phone in with very little concern if a character should have a soul or not. His final monolouge/reveal about his cowardice and inability to put others survival and well being in front of his own compfort is intense, believably honest, heart wrenching and beautifully rendered evidence of the previously untapped talent hidden beyond his good looks. Those two breathed life into roles that would have failed miserably in the hands of lesser actors. I whole hardily disagree with your take and befuddled by it and thats ok, i suppose. Say what you will about the film, (I thought it was well worth my time and money) as you are entitled to your own opinion, as much as the rest of us, but in my opinion, you've embarrased yourself by dragging performances into it. Especially Swintons.

joe_dee
joe_dee

Correction: It's not Margaret Thatcher, Swinton is basing her character on, it's undoubtedly Ayn Rand. if the ideology didn't give it away the haircut, and beret should have. 

dignan1409
dignan1409

The violence is humorless?  You mean like the "Happy New Year!!!"part where a full audience was laughing for the next 5 minutes?


I'm calling shenanigans on this review.

dogsisgods
dogsisgods

First glaring problem with this critics review is that Tilda Swinton is utterly fantastic in the role of the gloriously evil "Mason" in the film. She is the woman who knows the secrets of the train back to front, revels in keeping the order with her power and thrills when the lower classes are punished and murdered on her command.  She is gleaming with brilliant darkness in the role from the accent to the false teeth. A mesmerizing performance. How Ms. Zacharek misinterprets that great piece of acting is, I might suggest,  indicative of how she misses the bigger picture and the point of the movie completely. Go see it and decide for yourself. Its message is profound and it is delivered with a cinematic freshness and beauty that is quite wonderful. 

Gener1c
Gener1c

Violence is blunt and humorless.  It's violence.  There is no comedy in it, no humor outside of a Tarantino film.  It is merciless, quick, and cold and this is probably one of the ways this move portrays the grimness of everything best.  There was bit of comedy in its violence in the New Year scene but outside of that one, brief moment it reverts to what it should be and is all along.  A means to an end and little more.


This movie is not supposed to be unrealistic nor is it supposed to be subtle.  In a time where the rich/poor divide is growing ever wider and ever clearer it really isn't surprising that some would prefer the hammer to the knife.  The film itself is executed well, the actors, while not stretching into anything truly breathtaking, perform above the industry average and certainly far beyond summer blockbuster territory.  It has enough hook and special effects to draw an audience in and keep them there and the constantly shifting and clashing scenery makes the viewer keep watching if just to see what the next car holds.


Put bluntly your gripes seem to be that the film didn't have you leaving the theater with a smile on your face and that's just not the point of the movie.  You shouldn't walk out of Snowpiercer with a smile on your lips and a song in your heart, you should walking out feeling angry, a bit sad, and not have to work too hard to draw parallels to the story going on around you it was telling you while you munched popcorn and watched people kill each other for your entertainment.  This is a solid, entertaining movie that doubled its budget before the Weinstein Group screwed it over for Americans and reviews like yours just kind of make me sad.  You're almost intentionally missing the point and I feel like I'm feeding a troll after just browsing the first few pages of your reviews on RT.  Keep to indies, it seems to work for you.

nickvansmak2003
nickvansmak2003

"the violence is humorless and blunt..."


What a shitty unrealistic film this turned out to be. Thank you for the review Stephanie Zacherek.

Snoopy
Snoopy

@dogsisgods Completely agree. Best shot in the film is when they are about to go into the tunnel and the creepy, S&M-style thug gang is putting on night vision goggles and she just creeply waves as it fades into darkness. 

 

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