Transsiberian is one hell of a fantastic ride! Do what you can to see this little-seen gem. Before this film, I hadn’t seen anything by director Brad Anderson (unless I happened upon an episode of The Shield that he directed, and I didn’t know it) besides The Machinist, but from now on, I’ll be on the look out for this guy’s next projects.
The film follows an American couple: Roy (Woody Harrelson), and Jessie (Emily Mortimer). They just spent two weeks helping impoverished children in China. Roy, being a locomotive buff, insists on taking the 8 day train trip from Beijing to Moscow on the Trans-Siberian Express …in the dead of winter. On the train, they share a tiny, four-person sleeping room with a strange young couple that claims to have been teaching English in Japan (played by Kate Mara and Eduardo Noriega). There’s something strange about couple–and the fun begins!
Anderson is a master at building suspense. He takes his time to build up the intensity (in a similar style to Neil Marshall’s The Descent). I felt like the momentum of the film (as cliche as this sounds) was quite similar to a train: it takes it’s time getting started, but once it’s going at a pretty good clip, the inertia of the film drags you along, and you’ll love it. Anderson plays on inherent fears of Americans, that I think most everyone will understand. These include the fear of Russians (I’ve never quite understood the notion Russians=evil, but I suppose being a child of the 80s, I don’t remember that whole Cold War thing), fear of being taken advantage of while traveling (exponentiated by adding the Russian factor), fear of losing a loved one…while traveling, and a lot of other fears we experience–when traveling.
Anderson must have also spent a good deal of time in Russia. Having lived there for a few years myself, it grates on my nerves to see Russia portrayed so incorrectly, this is the most accurate portrayal I’ve ever seen in a western film. He pegged the country side, the terrifically cold winters, even the people, down to their babushkas, their tiny villages, to the antiquated Soviet-era transportation, their constant bitching about the ‘better days of the Union.’ While Roy argues that the Soviet Union was a ‘dark, evil place,’ the Russian argues back, ‘that may be, then we were living in the dark, now we are dying in the light.’ I couldn’t have been more pleased with this aspect of the film. And on the flip side, Anderson never stops poking fun at the ‘ugly American,’ naive, in another country, not really aware of the world around them. Sometimes it hits so close to home, it hurts.
While at times, the plot is contrived, for the most part, this is suspenseful, taut film, with great action sequences, a great script (co-written by Anderson and Will Conroy), and great acting . I’m completely confused as to why this didn’t receive a wide release. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a great art house theater around, you may have to wait for the DVD on this one, but I promise you, it’ll be worth the wait. Watch the trailer, it does the film justice.
Rottentomatoes: For some weird reason, this isn’t showing up on RT…
Rated R for some violence, including torture and language.