By Clint Morris
I can usually predict what kind of twist is coming the same way a roadie at a Chubby Checker concert does. Whether it’s spotting the killer from a mile away, predicting early that the person we assumed dead isn’t (that’s an oldie), or second-guessing the motives of the ostensibly guiltless and naive young woman from the get-go – I’m usually one step ahead of the reel. I consider myself one of those well-ahead of the game, having sat through hundreds of copycat films that essentially piggyback ideas off each other, afraid to even consider rearranging the grid for the fourth quarter.
â€˜’Transsiberia” is in a league of its own, it’s got the twists you expect a mystery-thriller to have – they’re just not laid out like they usually are. What you expect to happen, doesn’t happen. What you don’t see coming, does. What you think is going on, isn’t. Who you think are the villains, aren’t.
Having said that, this is a hard one to review without spoiling the film’s surprises – so let’s just skim the surface.
Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer are an American couple, owners of a church, on a touristy train trip from Beijing to Russia. Whilst on the train, they meet a mysterious couple, Spaniard Eduardo Noriega, and his young American companion Kate Mara. He’s obviously a bit of a player – and lets it be known pretty early that he’s dead-keen on sharing a carriage bed with the pastor’s wife. But is there more to him? Is he in fact tied to the killing of a drug dealer that kicks off the movie? Â (and introduces Ben Kingsley’s character, a Russian Detective, who’ll show up again later in the film).
Packed with beautiful performances by it’s lead foursome (and for what it’s worth, Kingsley ain’t too bad either – and considering he’s been as shitty as a well-worn diaper lately, that’s saying something), meticulously directed by Brad Anderson (“The Machinist”), and set in some of the most sumptuously beautiful and breathing locations (the cinematography captures the scenery superbly) I’ve seen on film in eons, “Transsiberian” is one of the rare beasts where story comes first and foremost, but never to the point where the other elements are neglected. It’s a perfect package. The planets have aligned. The stars have shined.
I haven’t been this impressed in a thriller in a long time. It really is a great rollercoaster of a ride. It’s reminiscent of some of John Dahl’s old stuff – like, say, “The Last Seduction” or “Red Rock West” – only better. I loved it that Anderson has injected something fresh into the proceedings – and as I said, really shaken up the thriller template by serving up something unpredictable and legitimately surprising.
Like “The Dark Knight” – for lack of a better example – this is another film that explores the notion of what a bad person is… and how nothing is black-and-white in today’s world. We’ve all got our bad side. We’ve all got our faults. And eventually, someone brings that side out in us. But again, don’t even try and guess what’s going on in the movie based on that sentence… you’ll only end up more Lost than Dr. Jack Shepard.
“Transsiberia” is a platinum masterpiece – first-class travel all the way.