Snowpiercer is named after the train it’s set on, a vehicle that travels around the globe and harbors all that’s left of humanity after a failed global-warming experiment left the world outside of the train uninhabitable. Aboard the train a class system has evolved: the poor and oppressed in the back, the wealthy and fortunate in the front. Chris Evans stars as Curtis, a man who’s had it with the way he and his ilk are being treated, a man who starts a revolt. What follows is his attempt to reach the head of the Snowpiercer, a journey that moves at a brisk pace and is equal parts sciencefiction satire, drama and action film.
What gives Snowpiercer, a movie based on French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, its edge though, is its looks. An art style reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s or Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s visually impressive imaginations, creates a beautifully realized steampunk world inside the train, which can change radically from one compartment to the next. The Snowpiercer is the star of the show, a unique setting for its microcosm, its tail end interior looking like an overcrowded slum, dark and dreary, and the compartments near the head colorful and baroque in nature. With every step toward his destination Curtis’ sense of wonder and bewilderment grows, and just as much does the viewer’s. Display and subject matter go hand in hand in the tale Snowpiercer tells, and its marriage is without a doubt the movie’s greatest strength.
The acting is top-notch too. Chris Evans brings both iron resolve and palpable uncertainty and desperation to his character, which makes his Curtis a human, not just a bland revolutionary leader. He mostly uses both body language and facial expression to convey what goes through Curtis’ mind, a man of few words. Tilda Swinton shines too as one of the antagonists, a slimy, cruel and sometimes downright scary authority figure aboard the train. The story itself, however good, is a lot like a sci-fi’s greatest hits, a version of a story told many times before. It’s a functional plot, but it’s an entirely predictable one too. The emotional beats do hit though, which in the end is what it’s all about.
Last but not least there’s the action, a brutal brand of it that leaves a definite impact, a violence that’s presented as a force of nature, a darkness inherent in every human being. To emphasize this, the action’s filmed up close, the camera more interested in the faces of the people receiving it and dishing it out, than on showing the audience the intricate fight choreography. It’s a clear choice motivated by plot and character arcs, a choice that makes total sense in the context of Snowpiercer‘s narrative and its thoughtful conclusion.
Snowpiercer is a film that truly is the sum of its parts. Everything works in tandem, and it works well. 8/10