Sundance - Transsiberian (2008)


Anderson's latest is a half-familiar and half-novel "train-bound" thriller flick

If you're familiar with films like Session 9 and The Machinist (and a cool Masters of Horror episode called Sounds Like), then you know that director Brad Anderson is not only a big fan of suspense -- he's also quite good at delivering the stuff. Anderson's latest is a half-familiar and half-novel "train-bound" thriller flick, and if it doesn't exactly match up to his previous efforts, then it's still a hell of a lot more entertaining than most of what passes for a "suspense flick" these days.

Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer play a married couple traveling across the massive Transsiberian railway line. (The line runs about 6,000 miles -- and the week-long trek covers about one-third of the planet!) In true suspense flick form, the couple meets up with a few colorful characters, some completely banal and amusing -- and others who are most definitely up to no good. To say much more would spoil a good portion of the film, but suffice to say that Mortimer's character starts ... dabbling ... where she shouldn't, and pretty soon the Russian police and a bunch of ruthless drug-runners are involved in the tense train trek.

Although I still prefer Anderson's earlier chillers (just a little) over this one, there's a lot to Transsiberian that should make genre fans take notice. Harrelson does a disarmingly fine job as a too-decent church group guy, and (as usual) Ben Kingsley adds a lot of color and tension as a Russian detective who may or may not be a bad guy. But most of the film's heavy lifting goes to British actress Emily Mortimer, here glammed down to an interesting degree and delivering an impressive American accent. As the noose of the third act gets tighter and tighter, Mortimer shines in some really difficult scenes. Also very impressive in a smaller role is young Kate Mara as a girl who might be an innocent bystander -- or hell, she might not.

Anderson attacks the icily exotic location like a man who's actually been there -- and while Anderson has been a passenger on the Transsiberian, his movie version of the journey was shot in Lithuania, not Russia. The actors deserve a lot of the credit for the "feel" of Transsiberian, but I'm pretty sure Anderson told his crew (more than once) "OK, but I'd like the movie to feel even COLDER." Seriously, you might want to bring a winter coat when you sit down with Trannsiberian, because while it's a meaty and smoothly engrossing thriller tale, it also feels like the world's most freezing flick.

So while Brad Anderson is by no means a "horror director" exclusively, it's great to see that he still enjoys playing in the spookier sandbox. Clearly inspired by a few of Hitchcock's 'train-bound' movies, Transsiberian doesn't break a lot of new ground, but it does tell a slick story in a very chilly setting.