Thursday, September 11, 2008

Transsiberian - B+

In theaters. Rated R, 111 minutes. Trailer.

This has been a tough year for 'indies'. The recent glut of financing for small, quality films has meant that there are too many to fit into the theaters, and even less that can get the proper amount of publicity (click here for article on this issue). Transsiberian is one such film. Five years ago, this film would have gotten a lot of publicity and likely been shown outside of the indie theaters, which is the only place it is playing in Dallas. The film tells the story of an American couple traveling via train from Beijing across Russia in Siberia. Written and directed by Machinist director Brad Anderson, the film features quality performances from Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, Kate Mara, and Ben Kingsley. Click below for the most suspenseful movie I've seen this year:

Roy (Harrelson) and Jessie (Mortimer) are finishing up a mission trip in Beijing (with Roy's church) and take the Transsiberian train for a little adventure. After getting settled in, they are joined by their 'bunk mates', Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Mara), a wild and mysterious couple. Carlos immediately gets his eyes on Jessie, who is especilly susceptible to 'the call of the wild'. As the couples get to know each other, director Anderson keeps up a slow, building pace with very subtle hints of coming turmoil. After Roy disappears after a stop in Irktusk, Jessie, Carlos and Abby get off at the next stop to wait for him. The trio encounters mischief and Jessie ends up back on the train, to find that Roy has befriended Grinko (Kingsley), a Russian detective investigating drug smugglers on the Transsiberian. Things go awry, culminating in a very tense final 30 minutes with a satisfying resolution.

I think trains make great subjects on film, and am fascinated with Russia (especially Siberia), so I found the exterior shots beautiful, especially the scenes in and around the decrepit chapel on the frozen lake. The film is smartly written, directed and acted, with the main weak spot being Harrelson's 'hair'. Why Anderson et al felt that having a distracting wig was worse than having a bald Harrelson, I'll never know, but it was distracting. Each character, with the exception of Carlos, was well developed and Mortimer turns in a career best performance as the guilt ridden Jessie. She should be considered for a best actress nomination this year for the wrenching and morally complex performance. Kingsley is his usually quality self as the Russian's Russian, Grinko, encapsulating much of Russia's soul and dilemma in the 21st century. Kate Mara continues to impress after quality turns in Brokeback Mountain and Shooter.

Some have called this a 'horror' film, but I think it is more correctly categorized as a suspense film. As a horror-hater, the few bloody scenes were not offensive at all. A quality movie.

No comments: