Monday, August 25, 2008

"transsiberian" movie review

transsiberian is a hitchcock-like suspense thriller about a u.s. couple's progressively harrowing train trip across the trans-siberian railroad, from beijing to moscow. the film is filled with so many amazing twists and surprises that i'm at a loss to provide anything more than a thumbnail sketch of the plot, to avoid letting slip any spoilers. in fact, i'm tempted to just flat out say, "go see this one, it won't disappoint!" the atmospherics alone - especially the compelling sense of other-worldliness brought out by the cinematography - is worth the trip to the theatre.

there's no chance the trans-siberian express can be confused with it's more famous cousin - the opulent orient express. the tight shots, almost claustrophobic, of life on the crowded, run-down iron beast as it slowly pulls itself across the frozen tundra of siberia are offset by the unquenchable "i can't believe i'm here" optimism of the american, roy (woody harleson). while roy, a hardware store owner in the midwest and a serious train buff (with a train set in his basement), just can't get enough of the train and the ride itself, his wife, jessie (emily mortimer) hardly shares that enthusiasm.

roy's fascination with train engines sets the backdrop for the first major curve tossed at the audience. the startling consequences that flow from roy's hobby become the fulcrum that transforms not only our view of the characters, but the characters very own reactions to those events and deadly consequences of those choices. on the first leg of the journey the train was crowded, filled with unpleasant train conductors, rowdy passengers - very busy. once the trip to moscow resumes, however, a new dynamic is in play - along with a noticeably emptier, quieter train - among the passengers.

the passengers share the second leg with grinko (ben kingsley), who we had met briefly at the start of the film. grinko, as played by kingsely, is a rougher more cynical version of the russian police detective played by william hurt in "gorky park." in fact, the atmospheric parallels to the winter scenes of "gorky park" are unmistakable. as the the action move from merely mysterious to outright deadly, so does the portrait of grinko. it's fascinating to watch the earlier motif's - especially photography and train engines - find themselves brought to bear in the almost indiana jones-like resolution.

i've been intentionally sparse with plot details (and character actions) to preserve the element of mystery and suspense. but i will note the only disappointment was the all too cute wrap-up to the story-line. the crashing finale managed to tie together most of the loose ends - while at the same time (although, i hardly think it was intended) prime the rails for what could be a sequel.

the film is well-worth seeing!


johnking said...

woody harrelson once stopped in a little farmtown back home (15 minutes from my hometown) and ate a tenderloin...that towns claim to fame.

rundangerously said...


woody's character in this movie is straight out of cheers (except the nice guy he plays is more serious and responsible this time around).