Transsiberian Review

As the train rattles through the frozen tundra with its cargo of weary passengers, a melancholic detective gives the American tourists an idea of just how far into it they've stepped: "In Russia we have a saying, With lies you may go forward in the world, but you may never go back." To same extent, this is the Slavic equivalent of fortune cookie wisdom. Ah, Russia, with its apparently inexhaustible capacity for resigned suffering. But as presented here, in the context of a tight and terse thriller like Transsiberian, and coming out of the mouth of a particularly sharp Ben Kingsley, cynical bits of wisdom like that go down like an invigorating shot of chilled vodka.

In Brad Anderson's film, the scenario is one we've seen before, but it's handled here with an unusual alacrity. Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer play Roy and Jessie, a pair of young Americans who just finished a volunteering stint in China and are now taking the Trans-Siberian train all the way to Moscow. Both as comfortable in their roles as few actors are ever allowed to be, the two need little more than a handful of lines and a couple of telling looks to apprise viewers of their characters. As the good-natured Christian rube from Iowa, and the girl with a past who's looking to put it all behind her but doesn't trust herself to do so, the two are ripe for the plucking. So when a dark and sexy couple in black move into Roy and Jessie's cabin, it's all a question of time before the Americans find themselves in a situation they're less than prepared for.

It's a general rule in film that, when traveling, one should never strike up a conversation with strangers who are a little too interested in your boring self, as the louche pair of "Carlos" (Eduardo Noriega) and "Abby" (Kate Mara) certainly are in Roy and Jessie. However, if that rule was followed then the stars here wouldn't have a chance to get tangled up in the fun alluded to in the opening scene in Vladivostok, where Detective Grinko (Kingsley) ponders the mystery of a corpse with a knife in its skull and a pile of missing drugs. Then come the dark strangers, drug-sniffing dogs, too much vodka, and a few very bad decisions.

Were Transsiberian set in more prosaic territory -- a Greyhound across Montana, say -- there might be more temptation to look behind the curtain of the plot and pick it apart. But director and co-writer Anderson had the smarts to set his thriller in such spectacularly and desolately beautiful surroundings as this, with the train rattling through snow-drenched pine forests that stretch like an ocean to the horizon. The occasional glimpses of civilization are just like specks in the vast land, making a mockery of any assumption of safety Roy and Jessie carry around with them as most Americans still do. Given this haunting landscape and the cool, meticulous building of suspense through the film's first three-quarters, the slightly shopworn quality of the script makes little difference. That is, until an ill-considered final 20 minutes starts cleaving off plot strands with reckless abandon. It's a cheap conclusion to an otherwise clear-cut and occasionally poetic thriller.

Baby, you're gonna miss that train.


Facts and Figures

Run time: 111 mins

In Theaters: Friday 24th October 2008

Box Office USA: $2.0M

Box Office Worldwide: $2.2M

Budget: $15M

Distributed by: First Look

Production compaines: Lietuvos Kinostudija, Scout Productions, Filmax International, Canal+ España, Filmax Group, Castelao Producciones, Universum Film (UFA), Telecinco Cinema, Future Films

Reviews 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Fresh: 75 Rotten: 7

IMDB: 6.7 / 10

Cast & Crew


Producer: , Carlos Fernandez

Starring: as Roy, as Jessie, as Abby, as Carlos, as Myassa, as Grinko, Etienne Chicot as Frenchman, Mac McDonald as Minister, Colin Stinton as Embassy Official, Perlis Vaisieta as Manager Hotel Pushkin, Mindaugas Papinigis as Young Detective, Mindaugas Capas as Military Officer, Visockaite Sonata as Female Train Attendant #1, Larisa Kalpokaitė as Female Train Attendant #2, Andrius Paulavičius as Lithuanian Backpacker