A Transsiberian train journey from China to Moscow becomes a thrilling chase of deception and murder when an American couple encounters a mysterious pair of fellow travelers.A Transsiberian train journey from China to Moscow becomes a thrilling chase of deception and murder when an American couple encounters a mysterious pair of fellow travelers.A Transsiberian train journey from China to Moscow becomes a thrilling chase of deception and murder when an American couple encounters a mysterious pair of fellow travelers.
I've never really thought of Emily Mortimer as a leading lady. She's always seemed either hopelessly insipid or appears to be battling some unrecognisable accent and a cold at the same time. It may come as a surprise then to learn that she is one of the best things about Transsiberian but unfortunately that statement comes with a number of disappointing caveats. In the film Mortimer and a mis-cast, toupee sporting Woody Harrelson play a husband and wife heading home to the US after completing charity work in China. In a decision which screams 'bad choice' to the ever watchful audience, they forgo a simple flight home in favour of the famous 8000 km rail journey through the snowlocked Russian wastes. Hence the title of the film.
What results is billed as a twisty action thriller, with multilayered secrets and lies and the familiar device of a claustrophobic location surrounded by scenic wilderness. This may not sound particularly original but, done well, it could amount to an enjoyable few hours of escapism. And, in fairness to the film, it starts well meandering slowly through the mystery laden landscape of character development, planting seeds of murky histories and maintaining a convincing sense of unease and displacement 2 American tourists in the time warp of undeveloped Russia. Events occur in a fashion that makes sense, uncomfortable situations get steadily worse and, around the time Ben Kingsley shows up as a Russian detective, everything seems on a wonderfully dramatic collision course with the revelations of the final act.
But then the 'twists' begin. Not twists in the normal thriller sense of the word but closer to the M Night Shyamalan meaning ie: twists that spoil a perfectly watchable film. The final act of Transsiberian dispels any sense of tension and unease by blowing the films internal logic to smithereens. I'm not suggesting for a second that the follies here are on the level of the denouement of Signs (or the entirety of Lady in the Water), but they do manage to bring the films momentum to a halt. Both The Machinist and Session 9 had problems with their endings, Anderson seems to believe that if everything doesn't reach an overedited fever pitch he isn't doing his job correctly. This is a shame as the deliberate but inexorable pacing of the plot was one of the films strong points.
Ultimately, Transsiberian is a missed opportunity. Some good performances and impressive cinematography are not enough to smooth over the eccentricities of the final act. It cannot maintain the tension well enough to be a thriller but is too mild to fall into the category of suspense/horror. If it is a drama about the fate of foreigners abroad then why does it descend into near Outer Limits territory towards the ending? Brad Anderson may well have potential as a talented filmmaker but so long as he continues to make films which are only halfway effective he will remain in that halfway obscure list of directors-you-have-to-look-up-on-IMDb.
- Aug 24, 2008