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'Snowpiercer' manages to stay on track

The Weinstein Company

By Karsten Smolinski, Daily Arts Writer
Published July 3, 2014

Imagine that the entire world consists of a single train driving in an endless loop. Imagine every necessity – food, water, and shelter – contained within limited number of train cars. Elbowroom becomes a luxury and circumstances demand sacrifice.

In the sci-fi action/thriller “Snowpiercer”, an attempt to reverse the effects of global warming leaves the entire planet frozen. Earth’s last remaining life clings to existence inside a single self-sustaining train. The all-important engine that powers both life support and the non-stop journey around the world sits at the very front. There, the mysterious master of the train, Wilford (Ed Harris, “Pain & Gain”), watches over the engine and directs every part of the passengers’ lives.

“Snowpiercer” stars Chris Evans (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) as Curtis, a leader of the multitude of passengers consigned to the very rear of the train. These downtrodden masses share cramped quarters and bland “protein blocks” so that a select few can live near the front of the train in relative luxury. However, with the help of some mysterious messages from the front, Curtis leads a revolt in a bloody attempt to take control of the “sacred” engine.

The film’s opening moves a bit slow, providing about as much excitement as the rear passengers’ own dark and windowless living quarters. The dialogue lacks wit and occasionally sinks to complete banality. For such a unique setting, the rebels’ plotting feels disappointingly similar to a dozen other stories of prison breaks.

Fortunately, as Curtis leads the revolt forward on the march to the engine, the plot quickly grows more complex. Opening the gate on each new train car reveals more and more of the secrets kept hidden from the rear passengers. The anticipation of what could lie behind each door swiftly heightens the suspense.

Despite the unimaginative dialogue, several characters entertain with their quirky mannerisms. A former security specialist turned hallucinogen addict (Kang-ho Song, “The Host”) hacks the cars’ gates while on a delirious bender. Mason (Tilda Swinton, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”), Wilford’s second in command, disciplines the rear passengers with cold-blooded torture and absurd metaphors. Her squeaky-voiced indignation calls to mind the characters of Prof. Umbridge or Effie Trinket.

As the battle for the train grows costlier, Curtis quickly learns of the harsh sacrifices that must be made to achieve victory. Though never excessively gory, the close quarters hacking and slashing makes clear the engine’s bloody price. Curtis finds himself slowly becoming more and more like those he seeks to destroy. All this leads up to a choice that will determine the fate of the final wisps of humankind. How much can he be willing to sacrifice and will it cost him his humanity?

In a world that consists of a single train, actions harsher than a freezing wind must ensure life’s survival. Though some audience members may gag at the film’s somewhat stale conversations, “Snowpiercer” provides enough oddball characters and plot twists to keep this train driving on the tracks. Any fan of post-apocalyptic struggles should definitely check out this unique story.