Transsiberian first caught my eye late in the spring when I was perusing the summer releases, and I quietly looked forward to it as a possible late summer sleeper. I've never been to Siberia or China or Russia, but something about the brief synopsis sounded creepy enough to get my attention. A cast that includes Ben Kingsley (Elegy, The Wackness), Woody Harrelson (Semi-Pro, No Country for Old Men) and Emily Mortimer (Redbelt, Lars and the Real Girl) piqued my interest even more.
So Transsiberian finally arrived at the "station", and I embarked on a completely engaging, even if not altogether enjoyable, ride through the bleak Siberian tundra. Writer/Director Brad Anderson's (Next Stop Wonderland, Session 9) dark thriller is the child of Strangers on a Train and A Simple Plan, and although it doesn't quite inherit all of the best traits of its genius parents, it's still a suspenseful story of deceit and faithfulness in one of the world's most desolate places.
In the marriage of Roy (Harrelson) and Jessie (Mortimer), Anderson has created a somewhat unbelievable pairing: the dopey, naive Christian volunteer and the woman with a rebellious past. Their counterpart couple, the strangers they befriend on their trip from Beijing to Moscow, is a more realistic duo, despite the mysteries behind their suspicious actions. Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) is a handsome Spaniard who ogles Jessie while taking shots of Russian vodka with Roy. His girlfriend, Abby (Kate Mara), is an American drifter who doesn't say much and doesn't seem entirely comfortable with Carlos. Each of these characters has identifiable markers so you know what they're really like: Roy has the nerdy glasses, Jessie has the constantly anxious expression on her face, Carlos has the tribal tattoos and Abby has the eye shadow applied so heavily that she looks like a raccoon. These markers are one of the few small things that Brad Anderson could have done away with in order to make the eventual actions of each character a little more surprising, but I guess if you don't notice then you won't be bothered anyway.
The only character I have yet to mention, and the one who eventually threatens to derail not just the train but the actual movie, is Grinko (Kingsley), a Russian narcotics detective who, almost too conveniently for the story, joins the party halfway to Moscow. Kingsley has little work to do in Transsiberian (his third movie of the last two months) but he delivers as usual, and his fairly good Russian accent goes a long way in making up for the utter failure of Mortimer's American accent. As memorable as Kingsley's character is, however, it's Woody Harrelson who almost steals the movie with his over-the-top performance as Roy.
It seems I've only mentioned the minor flaws that prevent Transsiberian from achieving excellence, but all things considered it's a thrilling success that deserves a lot more of an audience than it's likely to get. Brad Anderson continues to impress critics, but none of the films he has either written or directed, going back to Next Stop Wonderland a decade ago, has caught on with the general moviegoing public, who, if they knew what was good for them, would rush out to see Transsiberian instead of commercial thrillers like this week's upcoming Lakeview Terrace.
Writing - 9
Acting - 10
Production - 10
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 5
Social Significance - 3
Total: 46/50= 92% = A-