Snowpiercer Directed by: Bong Joon-Ho Written by: Bong Joon-Ho and Kelly Masterson (screenplay), Jacques Lob, Jean-Marc Rochette and Benjamin Legrand (graphic novel) Starring: Chris Evans, Song Kang-Ho, Octavia Spencer and Tilda Swinton
In Snowpiercer, Bong Joon-Ho and his production crew do something that is incredibly important in sci-fi films: they’ve mapped out a vision of their world down to every minute detail. This is where, for the most part, other recent films that attempt to show the horrors of tomorrow go wrong. Divergent and The Hunger Games films are competently made and their action sequences are sometimes thrillingly executed, but their generic, uninspired dystopias are almost interchangeable when arrows and bullets aren’t flying.
Snowpiercer is by no means a perfect film, but it is a transporting one. Its success is in its environment, in its imagining of a train that appears to be all that is left of civilization after an attempt to thwart global warming ended up freezing Earth and killing off nearly everything. Here a person’s value in society is, for the most part, measured by how close they are to the engine. (Spoilers ahead) Someone at the tail of the train can have their arm frozen off for protesting when their child is dragged away for work, while those in the front eat sushi and have access to a train car that is a huge night club.
It’s kind of ironic that Viggo Mortensen has become somewhat of a symbol of rugged masculinity on the screen, because his best characters often undo that image. Like Michael Douglas before him, Mortensen frequently does movies that put the modern American male through some kind of brutal morality test. He finds the bruised souls of these characters, and shines even when he’s part of a large ensemble (Lord of the Rings.) However, he is at his best when he is front in center, paired with a director like David Cronenberg who has some mischief cooked up to counter his archetypal characters.
A History of Violence Directed by: David Cronenberg Written by: Josh Olson (screenplay), John Wagner & Vince Locke (graphic novel) Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, and William Hurt
When David Cronenberg decided to direct this brutal, idealistic masterpiece in 2005, it was snubbed royally by both the Academy Awards and general public. As time wore on, though, and the end of the decade lists needed to be made, A History of Violence rightfully appeared on them.
Once you see the movie, the title will evoke Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. That’s how definitive it is on the subject. Cronenberg knows that violence is a part of human DNA, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. He uses this to create a visually stunning, relentlessly violent assault on the typical American family.
The Stahls are that family. Once the film moves past it’s brutal introduction, we see that almost too perfectly. They banter carelessly, the children are obedient stereotypes, and the couple are hopelessly in love. Thankfully, Croneneberg doesn’t stay there for long. We see Tom (Viggo Mortensen) and Edie (Maria Bello) engage in wildly erotic, kinky sex after the kids are gone. We see their son Jack (Ashton Holmes) do well in gym class and then almost get pummeled.