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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » Snowpiercer
Snowpiercer
The Weinstein Company // R // June 27, 2014
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted June 25, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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The Weinstein Company isn't the first - and most certainly won't be the last - film distributor to attempt to make cuts to a film before putting it in front of audiences across the nation. Despite the fact that Joon-ho Bong's Snowpiercer was widely welcomed with open arms by many viewers around the world previously, Weinstein had some changes he wanted to make. Filmmaker Joon-ho Bong wasn't too happy about this, and convinced the distributor head to release it as is. Under most circumstances, it's always better to support an artist's vision and witness how the picture was meant to play out. I might not be entirely sure about what Weinstein wanted to cut, although there were ultimately cuts that I would have made myself. However, not only does the picture need some edits, but the film also desperately needs additional material to keep us emotionally invested.

In a futuristic society, global-warming has consumed the planet and destroyed all life. Lucky for a select few, the Snowpiercer is a train that travels around the globe and is able to sustain life. However, this is an entirely imperfect society, as a strict class system evolves. The rich first-class are at the front, while the extreme poor are at the back. Conditions are brutal, as Curtis (Chris Evans) is forced to lead a revolution against the creator of the "magnificent" Snowpiercer train and take control of the engine in order to fight for both freedom and dominance one train car at a time.

The film begins by placing us in the back of the train. Curtis and his best friend, Edgar (Jamie Bell), are trying to keep under the radar during one of the many severe mistreatments by the guards. It doesn't take long for Tanya (Octavia Spencer) and another parent to become involved in the idea of a revolution after their children are taken for unknown reasons. After a shoe is thrown, cowardly Mason (Tilda Swinton) makes her appearance in order to publicly punish and humiliate the man in question. The audience is kept in the dark about several pieces of information at this point, and perhaps we still aren't entirely aware of the suffering that these people have been forced to endure. Even though we know why they had to get on the Snowpiercer, we don't know the events that transpired at the beginning of this society. Screenwriters Joon-ho Bong and Kelly Masterson try to bring this mysterious sense of storytelling to the big screen, and while there are some surprises to be had, there isn't any grand pay-off to any of these seeds planted earlier in the picture.

Snowpiercer wants to prove that it's more than an action or a science fiction film, as it wants to show how it can be thought-provoking, as well. There are most certainly some strong points here, as juxtaposition is largely used as a tool to show where we could be headed. This is largely a picture about how classes are divided in society. Since this isn't a story from the first-class perspective, we witness each car for the first time, just as our protagonists do. Each car has its purpose for society, whether it's used for the filtering of water or as a classroom for the children of the privileged. This is a wonderful way of drastically changing tone without shocking viewers. While not necessarily thought-provoking, writers Joon-ho Bong and Kelly Masterson have a fluid screenplay that consistently escalates, as the battles within each train car truly displays what these people are willing to do for their freedom from this societal oppression. You'll be left intrigued by what the next train car has to offer within this brutal train.

There may be a lot of people being forced to endure the torture of being in the tail of the train, but only a few of these individuals are placed in the spotlight. Character is critical when a filmmaker wants us to sympathize with the protagonists. In Snowpiercer, it happens to be by situation, which may not be entirely intentional. You'll even want to see the extras in the background overcome this horribly unfair societal structure, although Curtis and his friends should stand out more than they do. Audiences don't get very much time to develop these characters enough to truly connect with them on a deeper emotional level. As the feature tries to shock with its twists and turns through character revelations, viewers will find themselves doing quite a bit of shrugging. However, my biggest gripe is how often Snowpiercer feels the need to explain everything. Rather than simply showing us, we're forced to sit through entire conversations of hugely unnecessary dialogue. This leaves us with sequences that have entirely lost their emotional impact. While these scenes should have been trimmed, it still feels as if there are missing pieces to this puzzle that make it difficult to entirely connect with the characters in this world.

Even if you aren't familiar with South Korean director Joon-ho Bong, you will most certainly recognize the majority of the cast. I usually find Chris Evans to be bland and generic, but he does a wonderful job in the role of Curtis. He truly brings this character to life on the big screen, as he manages to inject numerous scenes with the emotional "oomph" that the screenplay is missing. Jamie Bell is a worthwhile addition as Edgar, even if he isn't given quite as much to do. Tilda Swinton often steals the show as Mason. Not only is this a magnificent performance, but she delivers several notes of humor that truly work amongst the darker scenes found throughout the picture. Octavia Spencer is another excellent option in the role of Tanya. Even though the character doesn't have a lot of time in the spotlight, it won't take long for you to develop sympathy towards this mother who simply wants her child back. This cast does a wonderful job at providing hints of what the screenplay failed to supply. Unfortunately, good performances aren't enough to change the errors of an entire screenplay.

This film is hitting American theaters in the year 2014, correct? Well, you wouldn't necessarily think so when watching the motion picture. Regardless of the occurrences within the train, we're constantly introduced to sweeping shots of the large Snowpiercer. This is "brought to life" by largely cheap CGI that breaks all tension. It feels as if we're watching a video game cut scene from a few consoles ago. Fortunately, director Joon-ho Bong has more atmospheric presence within the walls of the train. With the constant tone changes that go from one car to the next, the atmosphere changes with it. This could have easily turned into a chaotic mess of different visual styles, but they all ultimately come together in order to form fluid transitions. The brutality of the fight sequences can only be matched by the visual beauty displayed through slow-motion shots that are meant to leave audiences feeling in the moment with Curtis.

By the time that the credits begin to roll, we're left with a sense of disappointment. When a film is so largely celebrated for its ability to deliver action and thought-provoking material fails to display mastery, it makes you wonder if perhaps you watched a different film entirely. While this feature has its strong aspects that leave some sequences oozing with tension, it feels the need to over-explain nearly every plot point that reaches the table. It never trusts the audience enough to figure anything out, as we're literally spoon-fed large bits of information at a time. We're also left with an ending that reaches generic territory that we'd never expect to see here. Fortunately, the film is undeniably entertaining and it has a strong use of drastic tonal changes that make for an intriguing cinema experience. However, this is ultimately a film that could use both edits and additional scenes in order to make any major improvements. Snowpiercer lacks the expected emotional impact, but it maintains a unique style. This film comes with a light recommendation, even despite its flaws.

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