TRANSSIBERIAN barrels through the drifts of sensory-battered thrillerdom with a freight of suspense and dread instead of simply jolting you (although it does have some yikes). The dilemma is the thing there, one of those no-way-out scenarios that pop up in nightmares and in the occasional grabber of a book or movie.
American missionaries ‘Roy’ and ‘Jessie’ (Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer) are leaving Russia on the Beijing-Moscow line. He loves trains and they’re having a last adventure before heading back to the States (she’s not quite as content). They drop their guard big-time when they befriend another couple (Kate Mara and Eduardo Noreiga) who turn out to be carrying something in those tchotchkes dolls that isn’t vodka or caviar. Things go further into Oh-No Territory when narcotics inspector ‘Ilya Grinko’ (Ben Kingsley) takes over. “With lies, you may go ahead in the world, but you may never go back… In Russia now we say there are only 2 kinds people, those who leave in private jet, and those who leave in coffin“….We should have flown…
Directed at velocity by Brad Anderson, who co-wrote with Will Conroy, this critically well-received 2008 nail-biter falters a tad in logic toward the last of its 111 minute ride, but is so taut and twisty all the way before that you’ll readily excuse the lapse. The novel setting helps greatly (shot in China, Russia and Lithuania), folding the claustrophobia of the train compartment and cracks in the assorted relationships into the agoraphobia of the vast, death-still snowy expanses outside– a long, long way from any cavalry on the horizon. Your passport and citizenship, let alone trifles like ‘rights’ mean zip. Unlike the usual movie Orient Express luxury, the post-Soviet trains here are beat-up and filled with unhappy passengers and crew–it’s not any kind of welcome wagon. Probably doesn’t help to be threatened with torture (at the least).
Smart, unsettling and occasionally ferocious, with the cast in fine form. Harrelson is credibly garrulous but appreciably toned down, Mortimer shaded with conflicted emotions. Kingsley is once again a multi-faceted villain to be reckoned with—sardonic and fierce, honest and corrupt, calm and implacable: he’ll make you think twice about opening up to strangers before first locating the exit.
With Thomas Kretschmann and Etienne Chicot. The $15,000,000 production had bad luck, getting dumped in its U.S. opener on the same weekend as the crowd-gulping The Dark Night. Total worldwide ticketing was a clanking $5,926,000, a shame for such a layered, adult-minded seat-gripper. All aboard, next stop Irkutsk.