It feels weird to say that, when all was said and done, ‘Snowpiercer’ felt like the ‘Hunger Games’ for adults, without the Reality TV overtones, shot like an extended hallway sequence from ‘Oldboy’ (you know, the one where that guy kills all those people with a hammer) and an odd climax that reminded me of ‘The Matrix’. What’s even weirder to me is the fact that this strange amalgam actually worked. It is flawed, yes, and the more I reflect on those flaws the more they feel prominent, but I can’t help but feel like ‘Snowpiercer’ is one of those films we’ll all look back on fondly in years to come; a film that will establish a justified cult following and will become this tentpole for future ‘intelligent’ science fiction releases who want to deliver something unique and inspired to the audience.
With all the hoopla made over the trashy way that Weinstein Co. handled this distribution, I have to say that I’m seriously baffled he didn’t make a bigger deal of this film. It has everything it needed to be a major blockbuster this year. It has the reviews, the cast and the premise. This is so much smarter than the barrage of senseless action flicks targeted at teenagers these days. This has a political/social bite that makes it feel poignant, even when the plot holes are making the development of those themes feel somewhat incomplete.
But really, an apocalyptic action flick (because, this is pretty action packed, and the action is inspired and impressively shot) with a cast littered with box-office pulls (Evans, Swinton, Spencer, Harris and Bell all have their fan bases, but really…we all know that Captain America himself could have carried this to impressive heights).
But enough about that.
‘Snowpiercer’ tells the story of Earth’s only surviving humans living together on a train that circles the Earth once every year. The passengers are separated by class, with the wealthy living in luxury at the front of the train and the poor living like animals and in constant fear for their lives in the back. Their children are taken from them without reason or warning, their food is disgusting and their numbers dwindle when the front of the train gets trigger happy and decides to even the playing field. Among the needy, Curtis stands up as a beacon of hope. He’s confident, cautious and strong willed, and he begins to lead his band of brothers to conquer the domineering leaders before them. With a plan and a riot, Curtis pummels forth towards the front of the train and the mysterious leader, Wilford.
What transpires is a visual feast with layered subtext that works, mostly.
I think a major problem is the fact that, despite all the moments where it feels like the film is TELLING us what it has to say, the final moment feels almost barren. That conclusion, while certainly breathtaking, feels like a lazy outing that didn’t tie up the loose ends and winds up feeling anti-climactic despite the thunderous climax itself.
It says absolutely nothing, and so despite the film developing (or attempting to develop) so much within the body of the film, we’re left with a rather empty finale.
But the performances, the score, the technical merits (art direction, cinematography, etc.) are all spectacular, with Chris Evans finally proving he’s more than a glorified super hero and Tilda Swinton creating such a bizarrely haunting character (although, this did feel like Effie Trinket’s evil mother). The film’s best performances came from Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko, who embodied not only their characters but the film itself, creating a haunting depiction of desperation and intelligence trapped in a harrowing situation.
Despite a few flaws, ‘Snowpiercer’ is a film that demands to be seen and dissected, discussed and debated; and that, to me, signifies a great movie.
I give the film a B+. I flirted with an A-, or even an A, but as I rested on the film the flaws (or flaw) felt too much to ignore. It's a very, VERY well made film, but it needed to leave me with a more fulfilled climax for it to have been an extraordinary film. Oscar will look far away from this one, but I highly doubt anyone was thinking it had a chance there.