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Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir Bong Joon Ho
scr Bong Joon Ho, Kelly Masterson
prd Jeong Tae Sung, Steven Nam, Park Chan-wook, Lee Tae Hun
with Chris Evans, Song Kang Ho, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Ed Harris, Octavia Spencer, Ewen Bremner, Ko Asung, Alison Pill, Luke Pasqualino, Vlad Ivanov
release Kor 1.Aug.13,
US 27.Jun.14, UK 25.May.20
BERLIN FILM FEST
Watch it now...
There's a straightforward action plot within this outrageously imagined parable. Set in an icy dystopia, the premise is bonkers, but expert filmmaking provides an eerie believability. The witty, cluttered tone is reminiscent of Terry Gilliam, and filmmaker Bong Joon Ho makes sure it carries devastating thematic kicks. Why this took seven years to get a UK release is a long story, but the film is even more prescient today.
In 2031, 17 years after climate change action caused a global freeze, human survivors live on a train in perpetual motion. Societal control is ruthless, relegating the poor to the back carriages, where Curtis (Evans) and his friend Edgar (Bell) are plotting a revolution to install Gilliam (Hurt) as leader in place of the oppressive Wilford (Harris) and his enforcer Mason (Swinton). The rebels need security expert Namgoong (Song), who designed the doors, to work their way to the front. But there's a long way to go to take control of the engine.
Through grisly battles and quieter dramatic segments, the writing and direction are packed with details, such as when Claude (Levie) comes to the back to measure children and take them away. Or how the regime cruelly uses a poor man's arm to see if the outside temperature is still impossibly cold. The imperious Mason reminds poor passengers that they are shoes, "but I am a hat!" As the revolution progresses, ideas of revenge and justice become powerfully provocative.
Performances are deeply committed to the premise, vividly reflecting the distinct vibe in each fully realised carriage. Swinton can't help but steal the show, incorporating silly teeth and glasses as a schoolmarm who never doubts her privilege. Evans is terrific as a guy genuinely startled to find himself a leader. Song brings lively texture to his junkie genius. And Harris adds gravitas as the self-appointed divine mastermind.
This is a riveting mix of disturbing drama and edgy action, seasoned with sharp wit. Battles are full-on, crisply shot and edited, played with passion and urgency. The sense of peril and injustice resonate strongly, as the rich decide who lives and dies, and the salient question is whether there's such a thing as free will. All of this is woven into the fabric of the narrative, never shouted loudly. So the lingering realisation is that the privileged are the only people who ever speak about how everyone should stay in their preordained position.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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