When you get a film recommendation prefaced with “It’s not what you think it is”, you know that that something went awry in the marketing. Coupled with the fact that it opened on the same weekend as one of the highest grossing films of all time, Transsiberian sank with hardly a ripple. Yet it is worth a second look.
Roy and Jessie are travelling to Moscow on the Transsiberian Express after doing voluntary work with their church group in Beijing. Roy is a simple, cheerful, good-hearted man. Jessie loves him but a restlessness at the back of her eyes hints at a chaotic past. They become friendly with a pair of young itinerants, Carlos and Abby. Jessie is drawn to Carlos; sexy and reckless, he attracts and repels her at the same time. The journey to Moscow takes a week and the train is packed with a variety of people who chose not to fly for reasons ranging from a lack of money, a quest for adventure to drug smuggling. A minor mishap leads to a snowballing of events that leaves Jessie entangled in circumstances that threaten to overwhelm her.
As Roy, Woody Harrelson is back in familiar Cheers territory. Ben Kingsley is convincing as a Russian narcotics cop. The stand out performances belong to Emily Mortimer and Eduardo Noriega as Jessie and Carlos. Currently seen on The Newsroom, Mortimer was probably previously best known for her chirpy, neurotic airhead in Woody Allen’s Match Point. Here, she plumbs new depths with Jessie’s duality as she strives to be a good wife while struggling against her attraction to darkness. Her chemistry with Noriega, who oozes predatory charm, forms a fascinating element to the film.
Director Brad Anderson’s previous films included the bleak and uncompromising The Machinist. Although Transsiberian skews more mainstream, it avoids the predictable. With a distinctly European feel, Anderson creates a world that feels both vibrant and alien. He carefully maintains ambiguity and allows the story to unspool gradually, slowly and subtly drawing the viewer in.
Available on DVD.
With "Into the Vault", Pauline Dong will be looking at older films that were overlooked on first release or deserve a second viewing. The series will appear on the first Thursday of every month.
Written by Pauline Dong
A native Torontonian, Pauline enjoys much that the city has to offer, especially in the areas of food and drink. She is also an enthusiastic traveller and explorer of other cultures. A self-described film geek, her interest in movies was first piqued by the early works of Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino and Wong Kar-Wai. More a fan than a critic, she invites your thoughts on the films in her articles.