Movie Review by Debbie Winkler
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, Ben Kingsley, Kate Mara, Eduardo Noriega
Director: Brad Anderson
Release Date: 18 January 2008
Length: 111 minutes
Movie Rating: R
View Format: Online Streaming
Americans Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) just finished their volunteer work in China and are taking the Transsiberian railroad to Moscow as a kind of mini-vacation before they return home. They end up sharing a cabin with Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and his girlfriend Abby (Kate Mara). Experienced travelers, Carlos and Abby stay close by Roy and Jessie, but it doesn’t seem to be for innocent reasons. Jessie suspects that Carlos is running drugs, but Roy harbors no such suspicions. Roy and Jessie were hoping to reconnect and invigorate their marriage over the duration of this trip, but Carlos seems to be driving a bigger wedge between them. Jessie cannot stay away from Carlos’s dark charms and, when Roy is accidentally left behind on a brief train stop, Jessie gives into temptation, which changes her life forever.
Transsiberian is a taut, atmospheric thriller. One aspect of the storyline seemed pretty obvious so I was waiting for the penny to drop on that one, but other plotlines came out of nowhere and smacked me in the face. The movie begins with a couple that is clearly struggling in their marriage. Woody Harrelson plays Roy, a sunshiny optimist who never even suspects the bad in other people, let alone believe it. A typical American, he is big and loud and obvious while traveling, but he makes friends easily and everyone seems to like him. Woody Harrelson was a delight to watch in this role as an over-grown boy who recommends that you keep your eye on the doughnut and not the hole while indulging his inner geek with all kinds of fun train facts. Roy appears to be completely unaware of all of the undercurrents between Jessie and Carlos and I was really worried about him! Emily Mortimer was the central focus of the movie as Jessie. She is married to Roy, who seems her polar opposite in every way. Jessie has struggled to fight off her addictions and to change her life, but now she feels like she is stuck in boredom. Emily Mortimer plays Jessie as an intriguing mix of world-weary élan and naivety. She is clearly unhappy and ripe for the picking, which draws the sharks closer to her character and sets all of the grief in motion. When the exotic Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) starts flirting with her, I knew it was only a matter of time before Jessie succumbed to temptation. Eduardo Noriega plays his role with a hint of danger and a vein of unpredictability. He was a wild card and I never knew quite what was going to happen. Oh, I knew that he would find a way to get Jessie to smuggle drugs for him, but I had no idea how bad things would turn out for Jessie and Roy!
The best part about this movie is the surprising story. I knew that someone was murdered and that drugs were involved, but I was completely wrong in guessing who killed whom, as well as when and why. I felt an almost claustrophobic sense of anticipation while I was waiting to find out who was going to turn out to be the killer. The couples are on a small, enclosed space on the train and have little privacy. In addition, no one else on the train seems to speak English aside from these four, which keeps them further isolated. You also feel a great deal of vulnerability as the Russian police are portrayed in a very negative light. So where do you go for help? Who do you trust to share an incredible story with and hope that they believe you are innocent? Roy puts his trust in Grinko, a Russian detective portrayed by Ben Kingsley. I thought it was a good move, I mean, come on, its Ben Kingsley, how could you not trust him? But the good moves turn out to be bad and the bad moves turn out to be good. I was practically breathless with anticipation as I waited for the movie to come to its close and then was still a little surprised. There is a lot of trust involved in traveling in foreign countries and I never felt more of a foreigner than I did while watching Roy and Jessie trying to escape the train that had become a type of prison to them.
Russia is shown to possess a kind of spare, stark beauty. It is wintertime and Siberia is bitterly cold. I completely understand why Communist Russia used to use this section of Russia as a prison as it was difficult to survive. Buildings and people are worn down and just accept life at face value. There is no hope or happiness that is found without a touch of alcohol to raise it. Beautiful monuments of the past are at the mercy of the elements and are in crumbling ruins. Brad Anderson really captured this transitional country that is still trying to find its footing after the collapse of Communism. Jessie’s camera highlights bits and pieces of the Russian culture that are still alive, but the monochromatic vistas definitely wear on you after a time, just like they did on the travelers. The music enhances and supports the movie brilliantly. It is subtle, but very well done.
If you are looking for a movie that will surprise and horrify you, Transsiberian is a good choice. It is an independent film so they have no agenda in what they are presenting and this movie will definitely keep you guessing! Every time Roy and Jessie’s troubles appear to be over, there is something far worse on the horizon waiting for them. The movie is a bit depressing and has a sense of heaviness or doom about it that stays with you for a time after you watch it, which is probably why most viewers give this movie a lower rating. This movie is one of those films that is really well crafted – it has a strong storyline, good acting and a great mystery going for it – but it has some quality about it that makes this a one-time viewing for me. While I can appreciate the quality of this movie, I found it disturbing in such a way that I will probably not be watching it again anytime soon!
This movie contains several scenes of violence. Characters are tortured, killed, shot, bludgeoned, terrified and injured. Dead bodies and blood are shown. Drug smuggling is a major plot in the movie and tis brings in corrupt cops and drug enforcers who keep track of the smugglers and their money. There are scenes of drinking, smoking, and strong language. There are some scenes of sensuality and sexuality, though nothing explicit is shown. The nude full male rear is shown in a shower scene. Police brutality is shown while they beat up a suspect. Recommended for ages 18 and up.