Transsiberian (2008) / Thriller-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for violence, torture and language
Running time: 111 min
Cast: Emily Mortimer, Woody Harrelson, Eduardo Noriega, Ben Kingsley, Kate Mara, Thomas Kretschmann
Director: Brad Anderson
Screenplay: Brad Anderson, Will Conroy
Woody Harrelson (No Country for Old Men, A Scanner Darkly) and Emily Mortimer (Paris I Love You, The Pink Panther) play goody-good husband Roy and his reformed bad girl wife Jessie, Christian missionaries who are on their way from a trip to China to Moscow through the snowy environs of Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway. While on the train, they meet another young couple, sexy Spaniard Carlos (Noriega, The Devil's Backbone) and mysterious North American Abby (Mara, Shooter), who aren't exactly the benevolent travelers they appear to be. Slowly, Roy begins making a play for Jessie, a reformed bad girl, while Grinko, a Russian investigator (Kingsley, The Last Legion), starts snooping when it is discovered that a batch of Russian mafia drug stash has been stolen, with the culprit possibly being on board the train.
Director and co-writer Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Next Stop Wonderland) crafts a somber Hitchcockian thriller, setting it on a train no less, effectively exploiting the icy, desolate landscape to go to the heart of the thrills and chills at the core of this suspense crime drama. The difference here is that the film's heroine isn't exactly good, and the villain not exactly bad, creating something akin to a character study within the typical plot machinations that delivers enough interest to make Transsiberian worthwhile. As Jessie begins to feel a familiar taste of her former life of wild excitement, the traditional heroine role spins in interesting ways, though ultimately the film is nearly undone once the thriller elements finally take over completely.
Anderson's tale is relatively straightforward, delving more into issues of trust, guilt, and the difficulties of communicating, and not just between people speaking different languages. Decisions are made, many of them not very wise, although we are dealing with relative novices in over their heads in a world of crime and corruption that is used to handling such matters with the deadliest of forces. While the film concentrates on the quartet of travelers, the story remains provocative and suspenseful. Alas, the film is bookended by the "bigger fish" cat-and-mouse game between inspector Grinko and Jessie over the whereabouts of her former cabin companions, and though skillfully acted by all involved, the air is let out of the story when implausibility and contrived thriller elements creep in, eroding the more contemplative nature that had been built up.
Transsiberean may not be the most exciting nail-biter thriller released this year, but it feels fresher by employing a slower and more respectful style. Like the railway along the journey, the familiarity of the course taken doesn't leave viewers much to be truly surprised about, but, like many train travels, there is still enjoyment that can be had from an older, more deliberate means.
©2008 Vince Leo