Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Woody Harrelson,
Emily Mortimer, Eduardo Noriega, Kate Mara, Ben Kingsley
Director: Brad Anderson
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: First Look
Features: Making-of Featurette, Trailers
Length: 111 Minutes
Release Date: November 4, 2008
“Fear leads one to…irrational acts..”
I’ve seen enough train movies to be convinced nothing good happens on trains, and Brad Anderson’s masterful Transsiberian is enough to keep me off of them for life. He uses the world’s longest train ride, an 8 day stretch between Beijing and Moscow, as the catalyst for a noir-styled mystery that is suspenseful, claustrophobic, and eventually, the stuff of pure nightmares.
It involves an American couple, Roy (Harrelson) and Jesse (Mortimer) who were doing missionary work with their church in China. Roy, a train enthusiast, is excited about the long trip. They find themselves sharing a cabin with Carlos (Noriega) and Abby (Mara).
Much of the early part of the film is about the details and dialogue…who these people are, why they are there, what they know…interesting how Carlos knows so much about Customs and forgery, for example. But then the movie takes positively unsettling and unforeseen turns, ones which I can’t give away. One ends up missing. Two others pair up after a delay. One doesn’t come back. And the arrival of a former KGB cop named Grinko (Kingsley) makes matters all the more urgent.
It’s a delectable mystery story, rooted in noir in the way that one simple mistake can keep snowballing into greater and greater troubles, until everything borders on the brink of complete catastrophe. The long train setting is a naturally suspenseful one, as Alfred Hitchcock could attest…you are always moving, but always confined, and other characters are always…somewhere.
I particularly enjoyed the movie for the characters, which are given some breadth, and for the fact that I was constantly guessing wrong, which is unusual for me at this stage of my reviewing career. Some things seem important, but aren’t. Others feel like throwaway moments, but end up with great weight. And the final half hour ventures into territory I never imagined would be coming…some truly disturbing stretches.
Gifted directors can take a train ride and fill it with all kinds of dramatic possibilities. Brad Anderson is quite successful at delivering what can only be described as the substance of a Hitchcock film, if not always the style. The cast is terrific, and the tight confined spaces didn’t seem to trouble Anderson or his film crew…they create terrific shots without a lot of repetition, and with eyes firmly fixed on the goal, which they successfully keep elusive from their audience all the way to the end.
The settings make for occasionally surprising and eye-popping uses of high definition. Much of the movie takes place in the confines of train cars, which are fine, but don’t lend themselves to a lot of detail. Then, suddenly you’re in an outdoor setting, with people, trees, and snowscapes, and the transfer becomes absolutely breathtaking. The color schemes deliberately favor blues over reds, adding to the overall cool-to-cold feel of the movie. A few darker shots are a bit murky, but overall, an impressive Blu-ray offering.
The 5.1 sound makes the train sounds a constant character, but apart from that, dynamic range is sparse but decent, and dialogue is clean and clear throughout.
There is a half-hour making-of featurette, not remastered for HD, and some previews of other First Look titles.
Transsiberian is a superb modern throwback to the old fashioned suspense picture; the kind with character, mystery, and a diabolical sense of purpose driving the entire project down a long and winding track.