Brad Anderson’s Transsiberian

A lot can happen on a nearly eight thousand kilometre railway trip, and much of it does in Brad Anderson’s chilly, blunt, ruthless and exciting Transsiberian, a Hitchcockian whodunit with as many turns in the plot as there are bends in the railroad. Filmed on location in Russia and China, the Trans Siberian is indeed a real train that makes a long, snowy voyage from Beijing all the way to Moscow and here serves as evocative backdrop for six various characters involved in a dangerous game of deceit, escape, intimidation and foul play. Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer are the American couple, he’s a bit of a bumbling nebbish, she’s more quiet, shrewd, observant and possessive of a reckless past. Eduardo Noriega and Kate Mara are another couple, outwardly shady, edgy and suspiciously rough around the edges. One of these four is smuggling a large amount of heroin somewhere in the train, and it’s up to the viewer to discern why, how, where they got it and what the consequences will be. Meanwhile, two Russian narcotics officers trawl the train trying to smoke out the mule, played by a cold, psychopathic Thomas Kretschmann and a wily, charismatic and utterly scene stealing Ben Kingsley. This is such an entertaining, suspenseful, panicky, fascinating, character based piece of melodramatic escapism, made so by brilliant work from its cast, powerful scenes of violence, pursuit and distrust and locations that are at once beautiful, desolate, eerie and breathtaking. Mortimer is excellent as the kind of woman who fiercely guards her true nature and is resourceful to the bone in a tricky situation. Mara is low key very effective as the mysterious girl in over her head, Noriega just the right mixture of charming and dangerous, Kretschmann thoroughly chilling in his full on Slav tracksuit while Harrelson gets the film’s only comic relief as the lovable schmuck who doesn’t see danger until it’s in the same train compartment staring him down. Kingsley steals the show though, he’s a cackling fiend who exudes menace, dark humour and terrifying villainy, sometimes all in the same note. Director Anderson is responsible for some of my favourite horror/thriller films out there (Session 9, The Machinist, Vanishing On 7th Street) and this is one of his best. Cold, stark, with well written, believable characters, oppressive atmosphere, tangible danger and a feeling of karmic forces giving each player exactly what they need and deserve as the serpentine narrative unfolds. Great film.

-Nate Hill

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