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|Index||165 reviews in total|
Brad Anderson is probably the best unknown director working today. He's
the independent Christopher Nolan, often making character-driven,
psychologically complex flicks that transcend the trappings of their
respective genres. In the past he has successfully combined elements
from time-travel thrillers and romantic comedies in 2000's "Happy
Accidents", delivered a taut "Shining"-esque thriller in 2001's
"Session 9" and then provided a stirring Hitchcock homage with 2004's
"The Machinist" (which also featured a gonzo performance from Christian
Bale). With "Transsiberian" Anderson attempts to breath life back into
the often forgotten train-based thriller. Like those three earlier
films, "Transsiberian" was made on the cheap, yet still manages to
feature great camera-work and well known faces headlining the cast. In
terms of the logistics of the location shooting in Lithuania (doubling
as Siberia), this arrives as Anderson's most accomplished film from a
The story starts off with an American couple (a goofy Woody Harrelson and a criminally underrated Emily Mortimer) returning from missionary work in China by route of the famous Transsiberian railroad. Once on board the train, they befriend a young couple (Kata Mara and Eduardo Noriega) who claim to be student-teachers returning from Japan but might be hiding something sinister. The screenplay does a good job of building up to "something" and developing the characters, especially Mortimer's Jessie, delving into her past with expository dialog that makes you care about where these characters are headed and think deeply about their motives. Without giving away too much of the film, entanglements ensue as a drug smuggling operation comes to light, and in steps Ben Kingsley (excellent as a Russian bruiser) as a narcotics detective with a special interest in the case.
There is a point, however, where (pardon the pun) the screenplay derails, and despite some unexpected twists, there never seems to be that big payoff. The film keeps the viewer on their toes with a bizarre turn of events at an abandoned church and a shockingly grim torture scene, but the psychological ramifications of these events are never probed as deeply as they could've been. The seductively cute Mortimer gives a nervy, complex, and excellent performance as Jessie, keeping the viewer invested in her character and what could happen to her even as the screenplay goes all over the map with her development. Woody Harrelson's performance is more of a conundrum as he seems to be playing a book-smart version of his moronic character from "Cheers". He makes you laugh during some of the more ridiculous scenes as the plot holes get deeper, and whether that was intentional or not to break the tension or gloss over the leaps of logic is never clear.
"Transsiberian" should please those looking for something different from your run-of-the-mill Hollywood thriller. Though the screenplay initially gives us characters that feel like real people, the mechanics of the convoluted plot spoil the potential of that development. However, the film still offers up an exotic locale, solid direction, and interesting performances, which makes it easy to recommend.
2008 Sundance Film Festival ★ ★ ★ ★ (out of four)
My favorite movie from the first day of Sundance 2008. Roy (a very young-looking Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) are a young Iowa couple, returning from a church humanitarian mission in China via the Transsiberian Express, where they encounter the much more adventurous Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara). Boarding mid-way is Ben Kingsley, who we have learned from the opening scene is a Moscow police detective.
Like a Hitchcock classic, we are grabbed from the start with a feeling that things are not all as they seem, and don't lose that uneasy feeling that something very bad is going to happen until bad things really start happening. The tension is eerie and relentless, with telling glances and social conversation that suggest the relationships between these four are going to take a disturbing turn. Written by Director Brad Anderson (The Machinist), and inspired by a Transibberian trip he once took, the script is inspired and very tight, the characters infused with extraordinary depth and interest, the Russian state a harrowing umbrella and the dialog consistently powerful and compelling. (My favorite line, from Ben Kingsley, goes something like this: "We have a saying in Russia: You can always go forward with a lie, but you can never go back.")
As Anderson said in the Q&A, the confined spaces of trains make for heightened drama. Shot in Lithuania, the cinematography is haunting, capturing the mysterious, bleak and unsettled state of post-Soviet Russia, which makes for a marvelous backdrop to the action.
This movie should do well in national release. Maybe very well.
Sundance Moments: Brad Anderson and all the principals of the cast were at the Sundance premiere. More so than usual, they all praised Anderson as an extraordinary and meticulous director, one of the greats. Ben Kingsley noted that what attracted him to the movie, besides the Russian sub-story, was that the characters were archetypes and not caricatures, which is quite true. Anderson talked about how bitterly cold it was shooting in Lithuania.
Loved this movie and wonder why it was so under-marketed. I went to see it because I actually took the Trans-Siberian train this summer and so of course this movie intrigued me. (Luckily my trip was not so eventful!) While of course the movie was more personal for me since I could really relate to a lot of the scenes about life on the train and in the stations, this movie will appeal to anyone who likes a good mystery. This movie keeps you on the edge of your seat and is really well-done. And it definitely captures the current political and social climate of Russia today. Having dealt with the border guards in Siberia (over a visa problem) I witnessed first hand the 'wild west' mentality that currently exists in that country. It may be hard for Americans to believe that the events that occur in this movie are realistic. But they are. And Woody Harrelson is a revelation. Ben Kingsley is great as always. I was not familiar with Emily Mortimer prior to this film but I will be on the lookout for her next film. It's a shame not many people will see this movie. Hopefully they'll catch it on pay per view. Highly recommended.
Trains are famously atmospheric, especially on long runs across remote
areas like China to Moscow through Siberia. Voilà: the Transsiberian
railway. The quartet who meet in a compartment aren't really likable,
but you're thrown in with them, like on a train--the way Roy (Woody
Harrelson), his wife Jessie (Emily Mortimer), Carlos (Eduardo Noriega)
and Abby (Kate Mara) are thrown together in this tight, exciting,
basically old fashioned thriller. This is the new Russia of big money
and mafia corruption, but the ingredients are tried and true. Strangers
on train: there's something Hitchcockian about the way innocent people
get roped into incriminating situations and then appear perhaps not to
be so innocent after all.
They're on a very long ride, and in the overheated intensity of the cars (you can't seem to pry the windows open) things are blown out of proportion. They're too naive, too suspicious, too sexy. Roy's too pious and decent and upbeat. Look at the donut and not at the hole, is his motto. He's a very Christian hardware dealer and Jessie is his wife with a wild past that comes out when she meets another woman. They're returning from some sort of Christian outreach project in China. Roy's like a little boy: he loves trains. The Express is like a huge toy all for him. He's very devoted to Jessie, but the sex hasn't been going too well.
The next day into the compartment comes a younger couple. Carlos and Abby say they were teaching in Japan. However, Carlos, a handsome devil, who has his eye on Jessie, seems to know a little too much about how to get past customs with a dodgy passport. He shows off theirs proudly to Jessie, who's had a bit of trouble with the Russians. Her passport and Roy's are too pristine, he says. It makes the officials suspicious. His and Abby's are packed with stamps. They look "real." He's got some of those Russian dolls, the little lacquered things like shoots only with babushka heads, one inside the other. He says his are special, and he's going to sell them for a lot of money.
Well, he is, but that isn't why.
The train makes long stops, and Roy is so fascinated with the cars, he gets involved in a conversation with Carlos, and then the train takes off without him. Abby and Jessie have had a heart-to-heart and Jessie has confessed she had a lot of drug and alcohol problems. Roy says they "met by accident" because they met in an accident, when she was driving drunk and he stayed with her in the hospital. That's when he told her the donut and the hole story.
Carlos is dangerous, handsome, and predatory. Jessie has that wild side gesturing wildly to be let out again. And he could be the one to tease it out.
When Roy gets left behind Jessic has to get off at the next stop and wait for him. Carlos and Abby insist on getting off with her and keeping her company. And that's when the trouble really begins. Stuff happens. Surprising stuff. Or not. Depends on how good you are at predicting this kind of plot.
But the thing is, Brad Anderson and his writing collaborator Will Conroy have put together a story rich in atmosphere, that really convinces you all this could only happen here, on the train, in the snow, in the none-too-touristic rural Russian hotel and on a bus, and out in the middle of nowhere. The outdoors is all snow. The train cars are rickety and yet tough. The woman attendants are all Nurse Ratcheds who speak nothing but loud angry disapproving Russian. The food sucks, but the vodka flows. (Jessie refuses it, but when things get tough, she downs a shot. This is a world bad enough to make all but the strongest lose their sobriety, and she wears her heart on her sleeve.) The Russian fellow travelers are a mixture of camaraderie and hostility.
And then, of course, along comes Ben Kingsley, as Grinko, detective of Russian Narcotics Bureau (no articles, please). When Roy reappears, he's made friends with Grinko. Well, before that, early on, we happen to have seen Grinko examine a man at a table with a knife buried in the back of his head. Cherchez les drugs.
I can't tell you any more. I can tell you that the trains are so lovely they make you understand Roy's enthusiasm. Whole cars give off a smoky ooze of white frozen air whenever you look at them. To heighten our sense of the visual in all this, Jessie is a good amateur photographer, armed with an expensive digital Canon with a big lens, and the images on screen often jump with a hand-held camera, but also step back to take in long views of a skeletal ruined Russian church out in the waste, or to snap a hawk in the sky, or a bunch of huddled old ladies at a station near a rubbish bin where Jessie is trying to dump something incriminating. But wait. Mustn't tell.
It all hinges on moral ambiguity--people who used to be bad, who still are bad, or who turn bad, and getting trapped in your lies. There are some questionable details, especially at the end. Mortimer, usually a supporting actor, has depth and a central role here. Kingsley is as good as ever. Unfortunately the character of Roy is bland and conventional, Abby silent, Carlos more a smile and a sexy body than a personality. But the milieu itself is the richest character, and the too little known Brad Anderson, who made Happy Accidents and The Machinist, again proves his originality with material that follows a time-honored template but with a very fresh feel that keeps you absorbed from beginning to end.
Just screened this great film at Sundance 2008 and came away very
pleased with the experience. It appears that Director Brad Anderson has
successfully created a modern thriller worthy of attention. The
backdrop of this film is the wondrous Transsiberian Express railway
which in itself makes this completely watchable and makes for fantastic
cinematography. The story takes us along the railway with Jesse (Emily
Mortimer) and Roy (Woody) who are taking the trek as an adventure after
a stint in China. The two Americans find themselves befriended by a
young couple Carlos and Amby (I think thats her name,the character was
played by Kate Mara) who themselves are traveling around Russia. After
some time together an awkward friendship forms between Jesse and Carlos
who has several different motives. As the train keeps pushing across
the frozen tundra some situations occur that separate the newfound
friends and places certain individuals in compromising positions that
ultimately result in some stressful events. Russian narcotics officer
Grinko (Kingsley) arrives just in time to really make things chaotic
and turn the train ride into a thrill ride. Jesse finds herself pushing
and pulling between dealing with the truth and what it will take to
survive the train trip home.
First of all whether one loves the plot or not, its hard to deny the fantastic cinematography that takes place throughout the film. The train sequences inside are so authentic that one can truly feel the atmosphere breathing. Overall the whole film just feels authentic to the locations and the people who wander in and out of the film are completely genuine. Superb performances by all, just really good stuff from actors you would expect it from. Plot runs a little weaker towards the end and inevitably its somewhat predictable as most thrillers are, but with the train and the location its a enough of a twist to keep viewers interested. Flick definitely should appeal more to mainstream audiences then the typical indie sorts, so buzz might be a bit weak on the indie circuit but this movie should have decent release interest and definitely get good views on video and cable when people give it a chance.
I had heard little about this film before watching it, apart from the
cast that included the wonderful Ben Kingsley as well as Emily Mortimer
and Woody Harrelson. Who each added a great depth to their respective
characters making for compelling viewing. The blend of great actors and
natural dialogue makes for an emotive and visceral experience.
Brad Anderson has made a well paced thriller that explores the vast emptiness and deprived parts of Russia, and at the same time in contrast capturing the beautiful scenic landscape, as the characters delve deeper into the twisting roads of the narrative. Other than The Machinist (2004) I was unfamiliar with his work but will probably lookout for upcoming features as he has shown great competency in both the writing and direction of this film. Balancing the dramatic aspects of the narrative with the overall film.
The most important thing to note is that it is an independently produced film, which means it is free from the constraints of the mainstream but unfortunately this may mean that it falls through the net as independent films are often unable to compete with the marketing capacity of studio productions. As a result this film will probably not receive a nation wide release across UK cinemas, which is a shame.
This film is great watch with a solid narrative structure and with honest performances from all actors involved, hopefully you'll find Transsiberian a worthwhile watch as I did.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A church-going Iowa couple has just finished missionary work in China
and is headed home via the Transsiberian railway. Hubby loves trains.
Wife, who we learn has an alcoholic past, wants a bit of adventure.
They get more than they bargained for.
They meet another, younger adventurous couple on board the train. He's a charming, raffish Spaniard. She's a 20-year-old American runaway from Seattle who clearly bears psychic wounds. They seem to be up to something sinister.
Emily Mortimer is Jessie, the American wife. She senses danger long before here clueless husband, played by Woody Harrelson, who thinks being an American gives you a free pass all over the world.
The movie opens in Moscow, where we see police detective Grinko, Ben Kingsley, investigating a double murder of two gangsters. A big stash of heroin is also missing. Hmmm. Who has that heroin now?
Back in Siberia (actually Lithuania), things are getting tense aboard the train. The charming Spaniard is making a subtle play for Jessie. Outside, endless miles of frozen forests. Inside, raucous Russians downing vodka, comparing scars, smoking and singing. The railroad "hostesses" live in a constant state of pissedoff-ness toward the passengers. Amtrak it ain't.
The first half of this movie is fairly slow as we get to know the characters. Then, during a layover at a remote village, an incident happens that puts the movie into total, nail-biting overdrive. The second half is as gripping as any movie I've ever seen. As riveting as anything Hitchcock has ever done ... and this is from a major Hitchcock fan.
Warning: late in the movie there is a torture sequence of a woman that caused a few in the audience I saw it with walk out.
I'm sorry they walked out. The final sequence is a scene of absolute, though non-violent, reciprocity.
I hope this movie makes it to a large audience of suspense movie lovers. They won't be disappointed.
A handful of familiar plot elements (all used effectively by Hitchcock,
so let's not look down our noses here) is vividly drawn in a great
location. We're not on Amtrak and the more perilous side of American's
traveling in distant lands is beautifully rendered by the director Brad
Anderson and sensational cinematography by Xavier Giménez.
However, it's the cast that takes this from something routine to something very unsettling. Emily Mortimer gives a fine performance as a woman trapped by her past. She does more with this role than perhaps was written and finally cinches her place as an actress you can count on. Two supporting roles, Eduardo Noriega being a great predatory villain who sees a mark in Emily Mortimer's character and plays her for all she's worth. At his side is an unsettling performance by Kate Mara, who with less to say makes a very vivid impression as a girl who's both mysterious and sympathetic.
Woody Harrelson stumbles, but he's always interesting to watch. His character doesn't belong in this film (which is almost the point of the movie) but he plays naive closer to dumb (or dumber). And we understand why Mortimer may be frustrated with her marriage, but it's halfway through the film that lots of beans are spilled about her past and everything we've seen and will see is dead on and convincing.
Less convincing is the plot which isn't up to the level of the other elements. I'm not sure in a real world these characters would have faired as well as they do or nearly so long.
Ben Kingsley shows up and works fine as someone who may be the lifeline to our travelers, but as the action heats up too many things require answers that the plot doesn't have time (or the audience much interest) in figuring out.
Yet it's one of the better films this summer. And if you don't like what's going on with the plot, you can always look at the exotic frozen Lithuanian scenery, or the shadows of fear the Emily Mortimer sends across her face tingling up our own spines. Terrific performance.
It is amazing that one can now associate Siberia with one of the best
movies of 2008, a film that is put together adroitly, flows delicately
with the help of a tight script that touches on topics we have seen
before in dozens of movies but gives it a fresh spin, and the end
result is a movie that recalls some of the best work Hitchcock could
have made, a piece where innocent folks are suddenly snared by dark
forces. In the end, their fate is pretty much left to destiny.
Doing some very good work, Emily Mortimer and Woody Harrelson play the unsuspecting couple who see their adventure turn sour as they run into a couple of young people who might be or not be who they say they are. Before the audience can start wandering what's going on, things become uglier and more twisted that we expected.
Mortimer's role is one of the best female roles in years, a woman with a complex past that returns to haunt her as she confronts very dangerous choices during the ride through Siberia. It is amazing to see her transformation from a bored housewife to a woman who starts questioning the consequences of her actions and how easily she can sink into madness.
In order to make the tension effective, there is a cop who comes in to question our heroes and help them get out of their ordeal. With the persona created by Ben Kingsley, one wonders exactly what makes this character tick, there is an air of mystery, of knowledge that can be effective and dangerous, if obtained by the wrong people. The one word that comes to mind as interrogations begin is who can be trusted? The film moves with elegance rarely seen in contemporary cinema, one can recalls the classic work of Hitchcock in much of this piece, and there is definitely references to the fluid camera-work seen in Spanish films like "The Others", a movie that delivered by relying on the presentation of images and evoking moods that a simple dialogue couldn't.
This is a fine film, a movie that tells an old tale in a refreshing way, a presentation that satisfies the viewer because it engages the audience with its dramatic power. One is likely to want to see it again to clarify a few points and also to enjoy it again and again.
It is almost a perfect film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Come on, Transsiberian could have been an nice Thriller. Its pretty stretched at times but the acting is great, the setting is interesting and the plot about a unsuspecting couple meeting the wrong people on a Transiberan travel from China to Russia starts interesting. But honestly this movie has so many unbelievable elements which are viable to the plot that it soon gets rather annoying. Most of all main actress Emily Mortimers character Jessie is just ridiculous. After her husband misses the train and is left behind in a hotel (at first we think he got beat up but that red herring is soon dropped) which is idiotic in itself she waits in a hotel with Latin lover Carlos (whom the met on the train with his girlfriend Abby) who obviously has a crush on her and even goes on a trip to an abandoned church in the middle of some forest. Sure, her husband is in the middle of nowhere, so why not get everybody lost. After Carlos is a little too eager to get in her pants she doesn't hit him once in self defense, no she beats him to death with multiple hits to the head. But like this isn't stupid enough she meets her husband back on the train who made friends with a Russian detective played by Ben Kingsley. She finds out Carlos placed drugs in her luggage, they give it to the cop but she doesn't tell her story even when the Russian mafia threatens to kill her husband, Abby lies cut up and bruised on a table and everyone is looking for Carlos who also stole money from the mobsters. Like some gangsters looking for money that would care if she killed Carlos. And this behavior carries the movie to a to a ridiculous train crash and then a medium end. To me Transsiberian was a rather bad surprise.
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