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Transsiberian (2008)

DVD Cover (First Look Home Entertainment)
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 / 10
5 votes
Psychological Thriller, Thriller
Brad Anderson Brad Anderson
Woody Harrelson Woody Harrelson
Emily Mortimer Emily Mortimer
Ben Kingsley Ben Kingsley
Kate Mara Kate Mara
Eduardo Noriega Eduardo Noriega
Review by bluemeanie
Added: October 28, 2008
Brad Anderson is a genius. He is one of the so-called 'new breed' of horror directors, alongside other notable names such as Neil Marshall and Larry Fessenden. Personally, I think Brad Anderson has them all crushed. "Session 9" was one of the most atmospheric and genuinely creepy horror films to come around in decades, gathering a cult following over the years. "The Machinist" was another masterwork, featuring the performance of a lifetime from a skeletal Christian Bale. Whereas Neil Marshall seems to be following the John Carpenter path and Larry Fessenden seems to be following the Wes Craven path - Brad Anderson is taking his cues from one of the greatest directors of all-time - Mr. Alfred Hitchcock. "Transsiberian" is Anderson's latest film, a thriller reminiscent of Hitchcock classics like "Strangers On A Train" and "The Man Who Knew Too Much". It's the closest to modern day Hitchcock that we've had in a long, long time. That said, to go for the whole Hitchcock feel is nothing short of pale imitation. Luckily, Anderson is also one hell of a fine screen writer and "Transsiberian" is one of the best written thrillers of recent memory. It has its flaws, and it does leave far too many questions unanswered, but "Transsiberian" is a damned good flick.

The story follows a young American couple, Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer), who are traveling from China to Russia, after doing some mission work with their church. On the train they meet Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara), who claim to be traveling from Japan, having done some educational work there. Through a curious turn of events, Roy is left stranded at a train station, Jessie is forced to deal with an unexpected tragedy and the emergence of a Russian narcotics investigator, Grinko (Ben Kingsley) turns everything upside down. That really is an over-simplification of the plot, but I don't want to give too much away. Whereas the first part of the film seems more like a character study - and it is - the second half of the film turns into the real Hitchcock-influenced roller coaster ride. The film culminates with one of the most engaging and terrifying realizations, made by Harrelson and his wife when they realize that the doors in the train aren't necessarily leading to where they should be leading. "Transsiberian" is a mental mind jolt that forces the audience to be one step ahead of the characters. We don't know what's going on most of the time, but we have an idea, and that's just as much as the characters have.

The build-up in this film is tangible. There is this overwhelming sense of dread that sweeps through the entire film and never lets up. You don't know where the story is going to go, you don't know what is going to happen and you don't know who is going to survive. Anderson achieved this same sense of bewilderment with both "Session 9" and "The Machinist". He seems to be an expert at giving the audience exactly what will drive them insane - uncertainty. "Transsiberian" features some fantastic camerawork from the great Xavi Gimenez, who also shot "The Machinist" and the horror film "The Abandoned". The original score by Alfonso Vilallonga is just gorgeous and it brings back memories of those old Bernard Hermann scores from Alfred Hitchcock films. It almost seems as if "Transsiberian" was set up to be a Hitchcock tribute, from the opening scene of the Ben Kingsley character investigating a murder scene to the closing shot of the strong female character getting her just rewards. The first half of the film works because of the character development and the sense of uncertainty and the second half works because of the ambiguity towards the situation and the ability of the characters to work some expertly under such tense situations.

The problems with the film are there, however. For starters, I didn't really understanding why the Ben Kingsley character seemed to turn on a dime so routinely. One minute he seems understanding and the next minute he seems maniacal. There was no continuity to what he was doing and what he does at the end of the film loses a little power because we just don't buy it. Kingsley is amazing at playing these types of characters and he turns in a very understated and effective performance here, but I wish his character had been given more motivation for what he was doing. I also had a big problem with what the Emily Mortimer character does to the Eduardo Noriega character. I guess I can kind of see where they were coming from, but I don't know that the Mortimer character would have done that - I just didn't completely buy it. It reminded me of "Unfaithful" and what the Richard Gere character does to the Olivier Martinez character, just reversed. And if there was a weak performance in the film, it came from Woody Harrelson as Roy. I can't blame Harrelson for turning in a bad performance - it was just the wrong performance for that character in a film that strikes such a delicate balance. I wanted the Harrelson character to feel as real as the Mortimer and the Kingsley character. At times, he comes off as more of a cartoon character.

The highlight of this film is Emily Mortimer in yet another fantastic performance. Mortimer takes risks with this character and we never know where she's coming from. By the end of the film, we have started to wonder what her character has done in the past that we don't know about. We leave the film not knowing if she's a good guy or a bad guy based simply on how she conducts herself and the types of things we know she's capable of doing. "Transsiberian" lives in that world of the unknown and the unexpected. It asks a great deal of the audience and it delivers on most of what it offers. Brad Anderson is a fine director who continues to churn out solid efforts, even if they do seem a little close to homage at times. "Transsiberian" is a tense, edge-of-your-seat thriller with a depth of character and an attention to story that separates it from the rest of the pack. It features a stellar performance from Emily Mortimer and a vicious supporting turn from Ben Kingsley. It's not one of the best films of the year, but it's definitely worth checking out as soon as possible.

Recommended Movies
The Machinist Sounds Like Session 9 Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer Freeze Frame
Stuck The Jacket Trauma Donkey Punch The Puzzle
Funny Games The Prestige Red The Hole Lakeview Terrace
The Red Clover #1: The Red Clover - added 11/03/2008, 04:13 AM
I like this score and agree with your assessment with how Anderson is drifting down Hitchcock's road while the other two notable directions you mentioned seem to be also following their respective paths.
Greg Follender #2: Greg Follender - added 12/09/2009, 08:51 PM
I found this to be an overwrought exercise in heavy-handed direction.

Sure... it was entertaining... but it was also terribly predictable... and frankly, more than a mite unbelievable in the way it played out.
Emily Mortimer looks great on camera... but with the austere scenery around, it isn't terribly more than a by-the-numbers portrayal of a bad girl trying to be good. There wasn't a second during this film when I wasn't completely aware of what she'd do or say next. Still, she does her best with what material she has.
Woody, however, is a complete and utter train wreck in this film and much of his dialogue is actually cringe-worthy. It could simply be a bad casting choice... but for whatever reason, it just comes off as wooden and stereotypical. And don't even get me started on Kingsley's schlock russian portrayal...

The basic story premise is alright... but several coincidental occurrences seriously hinder the believability of the narrative. Really hokey stuff too...
I also concur with the reviewer's opinion of what passes between the Mortimer character and the character that Mr. Noriega plays... I simply don't buy it.
Unfortunately, since it's such a major part of the story, we are forced to relate to that unconvincing scene for the rest of the film...

As for comparing Mr. Anderson's film to Hitchcock's classics... well, I frankly find that laughable...
I never completely gave myself over to the story because of some of the stereotypical characterizations and deliberate plot coincidences present in the narrative... but I do suppose that the initial story "vibe" has a similar feel to it... and there are comparable settings. Otherwise, I just don't see it... sorry.
Still, while this director lacks in subtlety and believable characterization, he certainly delivers in the tone and mood department.

I give the film a strong 6... maybe a 7 if you dig on "foreign" style film without having to read subtitles;)

PS: The predictable ending sequence stinks.
bluemeanie #3: bluemeanie - added 12/16/2009, 04:02 PM
Just because I compare one film to another is not suggesting one is better than the other. Hell, I can compare "Operation Dumbo Drop" to a Hitchcock film if I wanted to.
Crispy #4: Crispy - added 12/16/2009, 04:34 PM
Didn't Operation Dumbo Drop have a scene with birds in it?
Greg Follender #5: Greg Follender - added 12/17/2009, 01:55 AM
I never said that you thought one was better than the other... (do you really READ other peoples posts before commenting?)
I just don't see how "It's the closest to modern day Hitchcock that we've had in a long, long time."
I'm entitled to disagree with your assessment, am I not?

As for comparing Hitchcock to Simon Wincer... you're completely within your rights to do so...
You'd have to be an absolute moron... but your opinion is certainly your own;)

Greg Follender #6: Greg Follender - added 12/17/2009, 04:10 AM
That last bit is a joke, btw, Meanie... I know what you meant.

Anyone seen any of the recent Criterion French noir releases?

Le Deuxiéme Souffle, Classe Touse Risques, and Le Doulos...

Amazing stuff...
bluemeanie #7: bluemeanie - added 12/17/2009, 11:03 AM
Yes, I read...and I am pretty swift at inferring also. That's what makes me smarter than you...:)

Yes...I have seen "Le Doulos" and have been a BIG fan of Melville's work for a while now. I prefer "The Red Circle".
Greg Follender #8: Greg Follender - added 12/17/2009, 12:05 PM
Smarter? Doubtful...
More likely to jump to unnecessary conclusions? Most definitely;)

I adore "Le Cercle Rougue" as well... but my favorite is easily "Le Samourai". Alain Delon is king in my book when it comes to suave and conflicted characters...

Check out "Le Deuxiéme Souffle" is you are a Melville fan... great heist film... comparable even to Dassin's brilliant "Rafifi"!
bluemeanie #9: bluemeanie - added 12/22/2009, 04:55 PM
I will check that out. Hey -- you show me your MENSA card and I'll show you mine.
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