By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
If you’re a frequent reader of the Henry J. Fromage brand of reviews, you’ve probably picked up that I live in Korea at the moment, and that I love to wax ecstatic about the current generation of Korean directors. Of the group (Park Chan-wook, Kim Ji-woon, and Bong Joon-ho in particular), it’s the latter that has provoked the most mixed reaction in me. Memories of Murder had its moments, but was tonally uneven, and The Host was half a great movie, and half a pretty mediocre one. Anyway, it was with lowered expectations then when I walked into his English-language debut, Snowpiercer.
Color me converted.
Snowpiercer is based of all things on a French graphic novel, about a post-apocalyptic future in which our world is frozen over due to a global warming fix gone awry. What is left of humanity is aboard a state-of-the-art train created and helmed by a reclusive genius and hurtling in year-long circuits around the world. A strict class system is enforced by totalitarian methods on board, but the time is nigh for revolution, and a little revenge from the tail-car masses on the pampered few at the front.
Throughout his career, Bong Joon-ho has shown his share of style, but nothing to put him on par with, say, Park Chan-wook. But Good. God. Damn. does he deliver on style with Snowpiercer. Imagine if a depressed Jean-Pierre Jeunet was offered the sequel to The Hunger Games, noticed that a train is how you get to Panem, and said, ‘Fuck it, the whole movie takes place on that.” That just gives you the basic idea of the world Bong creates, which feels uniquely and painstakingly considered right down to the last rusted bolt, and the at times grubby, at times gorgeous way in which he films it is worth the price of admission all on its own.
A cinematic world is nothing without characters to populate it, however, and the real triumph of Snowpiercer is how it balances a large cast of wholly unique, wholly awesome characters without sacrificing the humanity of any of them. Of course, when you have actors like Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, Song Kang-Ho, Chris Evans, and Ed Harris among many others, it becomes that much easier to create well-rounded characters with a minimum of screentime. Oh, and Tilda Swinton…
Tilda, Tilda Swinton
I’ll say this right now, if she doesn’t get a Supporting Actress nomination for this, it’s a travesty. She’s almost unrecognizable as a manic Margaret Thatcher-caricature; conniving, evil, and surprisingly chipper in the face of all obstacles. It’s an incredible, can’t-tear-your-eyes-away-from-it performance that thoroughly dominates every scene she’s in. I’d watch it again just for her.
If you want to chip away at this film, it’s doable. There are a couple of expository groaner lines, like “I can’t believe it! Cigarettes went extinct ten years ago!” Also, some of the metaphors operate on a more obvious level than others, like, umm, we get it, Wilford is supposed to be God.
These are all small potatoes, though. The one big complaint that I had is this film works excellently as a metaphor… and almost not at all as a premise. How in hell do you keep a million miles of tracks maintained when nobody outside is alive? Why wouldn’t you just install security cameras on your super-train? Where do you get all of the, as my girlfriend lovingly refers to them, land-shrimps for the Soylent Green? For that matter, where the hell does the steak come from? Clairvoyance, really? The folks over at The Editing Room are going to have a field day with this one. That being said, animals can’t talk, so Fuck You Every Animated Movie Ever! It’s okay to go ahead and suspend that disbelief a little.
This movie has it all- action, surprisingly funny quirky humor, honor, despicable villainy, twists, sacrifice, love (of family, of humanity… no shoehorned-in romantic subplots here), and layers upon layers of intriguing allegory that will keep you thinking about it for days. The best film I’ve seen in theaters this year, give or take Before Midnight (kinda a hard comparison to make).
Take a Drink: for every bullet message
Take a Drink: whenever something fucked up happens to a tail-sectioner
Take a Drink: every time a door is opened
Do a Shot: for every screwed up drawing
Do a Shot: Jack Nicholson face! You’ll know it when you see it.