TMN Movie Review: "Snowpiercer"

Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company

Rating: R
Length: 126 minutes
Release Date: August 1, 2013
Directed by: Joon-ho Bong
Genre: Action / Drama / Sci-Fi

In "Snowpiercer," director Joon-ho Bong offers a new take on the classic tale of a dystopian future. Starring Chris Evans, Jamie Bell and Tilda Swinton, the film follows a band of human survivors as they travel the globe on a train. For fans of the original graphic novel, "Snowpiercer" offers a unique perspective and a thrilling cinematic experience.

"Snowpiercer" opens with scenes of a troubled future. It is the year 2031, and another ice age has taken over the planet. The few humans that survived civilization's decline have taken residence on a large train, the Snowpiercer. The icy weather keeps residents inside, where they begin to form different societal groups that are based on the location in the train. Tail-end dwellers are poor and miserable, dominated by harsh guards and kept away from the riches at the front of the train.

Fed up with their lot in life, several of the oppressed train residents rise up with a plot to take down the forces that control life on the train. Led by Curtis (Evans), they work their way up through the train, offering audiences a glimpse at how each social class lives. After bloody battles that decimate his band of insurgents, Curtis and two released prisoners make their way forward. Along the way, they discover the wild revelry of the elite class and finally confront Wilford (Ed Harris), the creator of the train and the orchestrator of its class system.

Much of the action in "Snowpiercer" takes place inside the train cars, a feat that would prove difficult for lesser directors. Bong pulls it off with ease, managing to keep audiences engaged in the interior scenes without losing the sense of longing for the outside world. Occasional shots of the howling snow outside remind viewers of the train dwellers' desperate situation. Regardless of the cramped quarters, the scenes move forward rapidly, mimicking the motion of the train itself. The story accelerates dramatically toward its unexpected final scene and stops suddenly, leaving audiences reeling at the end credits.

The "Snowpiercer" story is based on the French graphic novel, "Le Transperceneige." Fans of the book will be surprised to see Bong's take on the story, which is considerably different from original tale. It offers a new, exciting look into the world of the Snowpiercer, allowing viewers to understand the story at a different level. The film offers something for everyone, from old fans of "Le Transperceneige" to people who are new to the story.

Chris Evans breathes life into "Snowpiercer," bringing humanity to the terrible world of the lowest class on the train. Already established as an action hero in his own right with the "Captain America" movies, Evans brings the all-American charm that shines through even the darkest situations. He leads the film effortlessly, dominating each scene without trying and providing a powerful central character.

Though "Snowpiercer" did not originally open in the United States, its supporting cast provides more than enough star power to pique the interest of American audiences. Ed Harris plays, Wilford, the evil (but misunderstood) overlord of the Snowpiercer. Though he does not get as much screen time as Evans, Harris delivers a captivating performance with his usual gravitas. He is believable as Wilford, and brings a surprising level of humanity to an otherwise cold character. The chemistry sparks between Harris and Evans when they share the screen, and viewers will be hard pressed to look away.

Other well-known names litter the cast of "Snowpiercer." Tilda Swinton makes a delightful appearance as Mason, the overseer of the back of the train. The actress performs her role with glee, giving audiences a glimpse at her many and varied talents. Octavia Spencer also displays her acting chops as Tanya, a world-weary mother on the train. American viewers will also recognize John Hurt as Gilliam and Jamie Bell as Edgar. Other international superstars make appearances, including Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko.

Despite its talented cast and fascinating plot, "Snowpiercer" had trouble reaching the United States. A clash between Soon and distributor Harvey Weinstein became public, and fans of the story feared that a compromise was impossible. Fortunately, the two reached an agreement, and the film was released without major edits. Despite rumors of a 190-minute running time, the final version came in at a manageable 126 minutes.

Overall, "Snowpiercer" is a resounding success, even in the face of its sprawling storyline and daunting practical limitations. Its international cast and attention-grabbing plot are certain to please general viewers, graphic novel fans and fans of futuristic stories.