Thursday, April 3, 2014

Film Review: Snowpiercer

Copyright: CJ Entertainment
So, you have a train carrying the last survivors of the human race. It’s powered by an infallible Perpetuum mobile-like engine, and it transports humanity across the continents, now frozen solid after a botched attempt at resolving the increasing global temperature.

The train began its journey years ago, and now it houses a complete society. The last compartments hold the underclass, while the front is reserved for the new nobility, headed by the industrialist Wilford who invented the engine. In the back, people are crowded, underfed and terrorized by the upper class.  Old and wise Gilliam, and his right-handed man Curtis, intend to change that by violent means. A planned revolt is in its last stages when we join the passengers on the train. It just needs a prisoner who can open every door in this gigantic vehicle.

 Joon-ho Bong directed Memories of Murder, one of the best police procedural thrillers made in the Far East in the last decade. Snowpiercer is an ambitious attempt, but for me its ambition drove it over the edge. The story invented a brand new society, and gave it pseudo-religion, improvised justice system and other civilization hallmarks. Inside of that society, different layers of the population further developed their own codes and rules. Because of the length of this never-ending train ride, there is even a unique history, measured by the times the train passes around the globe and the events that took place in it.

In the first half, the exploration of this unlikely world is interesting to watch and unpredictable in its course. Curtis, played by continuously developing Chris Evans, is a reluctant leader, although a very motivated fighter. His main rival and alter-ego is found in Minister Mason, a cruel bureaucrat from the front of the train who is determined to keep the things as they are. The clash of the two, propelled by the superb acting from Tilda Swinton, balances this exploration. Both have a view on many matters, and their opinions are often valid, although irreconcilable. Here, Bong makes a fine analysis of the revolutionary process, giving us a look into the past and the way that the present will kill it and replace it as the future. Mason is the past, and Curtis the present that is armed with a hatchet.

The second half is devoid of this duality. As the story progresses, the possibilities for an unexpected conclusion to it start to diminish. Few impressive and massive fight scenes do occur around the middle of the film, with one that hauntingly resembles a famous situation from the original Oldboy film (probably an homage Bong made to his fellow countryman). But they end, and the film still needs a climax and an ending. Here, I feel that Bong simply ran out of  the freshness we saw in the beginning, and like a person that decided to a popular mall late on a Friday afternoon, simply takes the last parking spot that is available. The culmination to the story was clear at least for the last half hour of the film.

I wasn’t interested in any ecological messages or contemplation about the society in large that this film might have included. I came looking for good cinema, and got one half that was excellent, and one that was just about made for TV. When it comes to ambitious project like this one, this ratio isn’t so bad.