Action Allegories

The Purge: Anarchy: written and directed by James DeMonaco; starring Frank Grillo (Sergeant), Carmen Ejogo (Eva), Zach Gilford (Shane), Kiele Sanchez (Liz), Zoe Soul (Cali) and Justina Machado (Tanya) (2014): The second Purge movie ditches the name actors and heads to the streets for the near-future America’s favourite annual pastime: raping and killing without consequence for one night of the year. 

Instead of one somewhat unlikable upper-middle-class family under siege, we get the tried-and-true Stagecoach formula of disparate strangers bonded by shared danger. It works beautifully. There’s nothing subtle about the Purge movies, in which the poor are victims of violence and the State loves it. But there is something bracing about this movie, something very early John Carpenter in its angry protagonist, known only as Sergeant (for his former rank as a police officer).

Frank Grillo nails the frustrations of a man who doesn’t want to be a hero but is forced to because of his own morality. The four people he leads on this little night-sea journey are appealing. We even get periodic left-wing civics lectures from Zoe Soul’s Cali. The allegory is paper-thin but surprisingly sturdy: it all seems like a brand that’s built to last, a similarly agit-proppy successor to Carpenter’s Escape from New York and They Live. Recommended.

Snowpiercer: adapted by Joon-ho Bong and Kelly Masterson from Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette; directed by Joon-ho Bong; starring Chris Evans (Curtis), Kang-ho Song (Namgoong Minsoo), Ed Harris (Wilford), John Hurt (Gilliam), Tilda Swinton (Mason), and Octavia Spencer (Tanya) (2013): Visually startling and dumb as a post. 17 years after a 2014 attempt to stop global warming freezes the Earth, humanity’s survivors live on a train that never stops chugging along through an icy landscape that stretches throughout every continent on Earth (well, except Australia — the train doesn’t go there). Mad billionaire Wilford connected nearly 500,000 kilometers of railway track some time before everything got really chilly and then  got a bunch of people together on his train. 

At the front of the train, the engine and the rich people. At the back of the train, the poor. Captain America Chris Evans leads a rag-tag group of poor people towards the front of the train in hopes of overthrowing the existing social order. Shenanigans ensue, many of them very cleverly staged. Characterization and subtlety (not to mention science and engineering) aren’t parts of the program. It’s not science fiction. It’s barely allegory. The dialogue thuds along. Tilda Swinton plays Tilda Swinton playing a Tilda Swinton character.

If Michael Bay had directed this rather than the critically beloved Joon-ho Bong, I think the movie would be reviled for being stupid eye candy. It’s a movie that gets small, detailed things right within a much larger framework of gross unbelievability: those 500,000+ kilometres of track, for example, are needed so that it takes exactly a year for the train to complete one circuit while traveling at a relatively constant 75 kph. Why? Um, so they can celebrate New Year’s Day every year at the completion of the circuit? So it goes. Lightly recommended.

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