Bong Jun-Ho who directed the film Mother directs his first American feature Snowpiercer which stars Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Allison Pill and Ed Harris. The plot concerns the idea that the world tried to stop global warming and it froze the earth. Because of that incident the remaining survivors board an industrial designer’s high speed train that is built to support human life for decades. The train is broken down into a social class structure. The poorest people are in the back of the train while the rich lead leisurely lives in the front of the train. Essentially the lead character Curtis, played by Chris Evans stages a break out to get the passengers who have lived in the back up to the front.
Chris Evans plays Curtis with a certain level of brokenness. This level of vulnerability from Evans is something I never expected to see. He seems haunted by past decisions and that gives his character mystery and makes him compelling. Jamie Bell has a small part in the film as Curtis’s best friend but never gets much to do. Octavia Spencer spends most of her screen time emoting about the fact that the rich people at the front of the car took her child. While Spencer’s performance did move me it was also incredibly one note. The characters are not the most interesting part of this film.
The aesthetic of the film really make the film a visual feast. The production design of Snowpiercer is top notch and makes you feel like you’re in a dystopian future despite every scene taking place on a section of a train. I feel that the production design is akin to the set design in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in that each section takes you to a new immersive environment. The scene that spoke the most to me actually involved one of the poor people being punished by having their arm forcibly held outside of the train car for 7 minutes because he rebelled against the rich. The CG or practical effects of the man losing his arm still make me cringe with disgust and pain.
The real issue with this film has to do with the character of Wilford played by Ed Harris. Wilford is neither heard nor seen until the end of the movie. This idea is very reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz except this film has its characters meet such a bland antagonist. Wilford only exists to keep the population of the train balanced and the engine running. Wilford is essentially praised as God because he saved the majority of the Earth’s population but the character just doesn’t work as a strong villain.
The conclusion of the film sheds some light on Curtis’s past but does little else to reveal what should happen to the people on the train. It’s worth your time for Evans’s performance and the incredibly well realized set design but it does very little to illuminate the issues with people being divided by class. As a directorial effort Jun Ho should have strengthened the story more to suit his directing style. Better luck next time.