‘Snowpiercer’ an Action Film with Urgency and Surprises

by Eric Melin on July 7, 2014

in Print Reviews,Reviews

This Snowpiercer movie review appears originally at Lawrence.com. Video review from KCTV5 This Morning.

[Solid Rock Fist Up]

The really great action movies are all about urgency—that life-and-death situation where the stakes couldn’t be any higher and the main character doesn’t have any other choice but to forge ahead. The new multinational co-production Snowpiercer has urgency in spades, but it also accomplishes something that’s even more rare.

It feels fresh.

Ostensibly, Snowpiercer is a science-fiction tale that takes place in 2031, after a failed attempt at stopping the global warming crisis leaves the Earth in a permanent state of well-below-freezing temperatures. The only survivors of the planet-wide disaster stay alive by remaining in constant motion on a train that circles the globe once each year.

Although it sounds like a post-apocalyptic Noah’s Ark tale crossed with a Speed-like high concept, Snowpiercer (loosely adapted from a French graphic novel) manages to feel exciting — and be about something. Partially, this is because South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Mother) is so skilled at defying expectations.

We’ve seen films about runaway trains before, and it’s a great suspense-building device, but Bong isn’t as concerned about things like logic and plot as he is energy and surprise. Snowpiercer alternates between sudden violence, high camp, and heavy-handed political allegory with breakneck speed, and even when its disjoined plot mechanics seem a little too convenient, it’s brimming with new cinematic technique.

Herky-jerky action scenes have become the norm in Hollywood, thanks to the adoption of handheld cameras and their natural tendency of mirroring real-life stressful experiences. Let’s call Bong’s style “focused herky-jerky” then, because it zooms in on strategic interactions, maintains the urgency, while also highlighting the cause-and-effect of bodies in motion.

The other reason it feels fresh is because its sense of outrage is matched by the era. The 99-percent-vs.-1-percenter storyline is in the water these days. It taps into real outrage. Even with broad comic portrayals like Tilda Swinton’s uppercrust school marm parody, Snowpiercer stays firmly in the realm of a class-warfare psychodrama.

It’s Chris Evans who grounds the film, as he leads a team of disgruntled nobodies on a car-by-car takeover of the train to discover massive disparity in wealth and living conditions. Even in a nothing-to-lose premise like this, however, it often feels like Hollywood movies are just delivering what’s expected.

Bong is so off-kilter in his presentation here, that anything seems possible, and this well-worn genre feels like the first time.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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