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July 7, 2014

Movie review: 'Snowpiercer' tells a bold and brave story well

"Snowpiercer," a revolutionary international sci-fi thriller, is the kind of movie that infiltrates your mind and stays there -- to mull over, marvel at its technique, admire its style and ponder the big picture it forces us to confront.

A bracing piece of entertainment with a conscience, "Snowpiercer" takes place after global warming has resulted in another ice age, making life on earth extinct except for the survivors on a train that symbolizes the biblical ark.

It's 2031, and for the past 17 years, the Haves live in luxury in the front while the Have-Nots live in squalor in the rear, an allegory about class warfare.

Insurgents are about to make their move, led by reluctant hero Curtis (Chris Evans), with Edgar (Jamie Bell) his wing man and Gilliam (John Hurt) the wise old man offering sage advice.

Peril escalates as each gate is opened to the next car, and the bloody battles thin the ranks. But hope is not lost, and ultimately, the human race's survival is at stake.


Chris Evans broke through as Captain America, but he proves he is not a one-trick pony, remarkably portraying a tormented man who can't get past his past. He must rise to the occasion to lead the rebels. The actor is mesmerizing, as he straps the film to his back and carries us through a world of hurt.

Tilda Swinton, Oscar winner for 'Michael Clayton," fiercely plays another eccentric bureaucrat with no soul, demonstrating why she's one of the best character actresses around. Another Oscar winner, Octavia Spencer ("The Help"), brings heart and heat as a distraught mother laying it all on the line.

Both Jamie Bell and John Hurt display the grit needed to withstand the slum conditions.

Koreans Song Kang-ho and Ko Ah-sung are convincing in their American debuts, with the petite young actress memorable as a wide-eyed innocent, a "train baby" who has never experienced life on earth outside the moving locomotive.

What Works

Inspired art direction, set design and cinematography will be singled out come awards season, but besides the film's innovative look, there is a bold and brave story to tell.

Director Bong Joon-ho, who co-wrote the script, has subtly crafted this tale in such a way that snippets of dialogue and objects just glanced at will become significant as more story elements are revealed.

Although it does conjure up earlier works about how awful the post-apocalypse will be, Joon-ho presents a different look to a bleak dystopian future. And he has framed some dazzling action sequences as well.

What Doesn't Work

Adapted from a 1982 graphic novel, "Snowpiercer," is intense about the hellish conditions, and therefore, this isn't everyone's cup of tea. Much brute force is shown, and images are gory, cruel and blood-saturated. Be prepared to hear many squishy "ewwww" sounds.

But get past the violence, and you will be rewarded with a genre tour-de-force that will be talked about as an instant classic.

With all the praise heaped on it, expectations are high and, therefore, the film is deceptive. You think you have seen this before when it starts, but by midway, you will realize you really haven't.

It also moves at its own speed, like most foreign films of any heft do.

Let's talk afterwards. You will want to, I guarantee it.

Stars: Four

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Starring: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Olivia Spencer, Song Kang-ho

Rated: R for brutality and violence

Length: 2:06

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