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April 6, 2009 | by  | in Film | [ssba]

Transsiberian

I was very excited when I heard about Transsiberian. It’s set on a train, which is always a great setting for a thriller. It stars Woody Harrelson (if only he was back with Wesley Snipes! Money Train anybody?) Transsiberian is also Brad Anderson’s follow up to The Machinist, one of the better psychological-thrillers to have emerged from that exhausted genre. Yet, despite this potential Transsiberian finally allows me to give a film a poor review.

On the famous train from Beijing to Moscow, Americans Roy (Harrelson) and his photographer wife Jesse (Mortimer) are taking the trip after “lending a hand” to the poor in China. When another couple, the dark, mysterious Carlos and the young Abby become their cabinmates, things become complicated as, of course, the new arrivals are not quite what they seem.

There have been some wonderful thrillers set on trains. Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and The Lady Vanishes being among the best. In many respects the train is the ideal setting for the thriller: claustrophobic, isolated yet constantly moving. Just the sound of the train itself adds layer of suspense. Transsiberian does utilise all these elements, yet in a way that is extremely predicatable and largely unoriginal.

Anderson could have taken a lesson from these earlier films in learning how to hold his cards up his sleeve. Too often his camera lingered on something for an age too long, making it very obvious as to what was going to happen. I was always expecting my first prediction to be undermined, yet every time things turned out as I expected. Andersons worst crime were the unecessary flashbacks. Note: when something serious has happened in one scene, and in the next the character involved looks upset, we don’t need a flashback to know what they are thinking!

When Ben Kingsley comes into it with a heavy Russian accent the whole thing gets far too ridiculous for my liking. Granted the thriller is often thrilling for the very reason that it puts its characters in unlikely situations, but things became quite silly by the end. I also got the feeling there was some sort of strange political message operating. After all, the film is about an American couple on the Transsiberian railway (China to Russia!) where every foreigner is distrustful and potentially dangerous; it’s an alarming worldview. I think I’d rather watch Money Train.

Directed by Brad Anderson
Written by Brad Anderson & Will Conroy
With Emily Mortimer, Woody Harrelson, Ben Kingsle
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