A do-gooder American couple (not without their own problems), Roy and Jessie (Woody Harrelson/Emily Mortimer), depart for a charity trip, traveling from China to Russia via the historic Trans-Siberian train. They meet up with a suspicious couple, Carlos and Abby (Eduardo Noriega/Kate Mara) whose motives immediately become questionable. After a few misguided episodes, Russian narcotics officer Grinko (Ben Kingsley) joins in the dreary ride.
What was really lacking as the movie progressed was a sense of urgency. The time it took setting up the characters could have been well spent giving us more clues, or deception around the characters' real agendas. The tables get turned a couple of times, but nothing that psychologically intimidates or fools us. On the whole, the train stops in loophole city way too often.
There's a lot of prophesying with some quality quotes: "Life is a journey not a destination." "If you kill all your demons, you might destroy your angels, too." "Live in darkness, die in light." In fact there are so many of these quotable sayings that some are acknowledged by the characters themselves. "Who said that?" -"Tennessee Williams, I think." If that's not enough, Grinko is constantly starting a sentence by saying, "In Russia we have this saying..."
Mortimer's performance gives the movie its jolt (her character ends up holding a deadly secret). In fact everyone is pretty darn superb. Harrelson is the lone weak link, playing the church-going dweeb just a little too much like a cartoonish geek. The director (Brad Anderson), responsible for two movies I really liked (The Machinist and Session 9), fails to capture a consistent vision: the gritty and claustrophobic train interiors are eye catching and the Russian police figure is nice and menacing, but again, right when it starts getting creepy and suspense builds, it dissipates. The most troubling aspect was when it teetered into Hitchcock territory, telegraphing evidence to us via flashbacks as though we hadn't been paying attention throughout.
When the plot wanted to thicken it felt as though the most relevant scenes were already sifted out, leaving the guts of the script on the cold floor to be kicked around. Where Transsiberian really derails is in the seemingly now obligatory interrogation/torture scene, which jumps from one empty idea to another, eventually proving wholly unoriginal. Although some might find the ending symbolic, I felt it was wholly unbelievable.
Transsiberian is like a whodunit that leaves you wondering, "Why'd they do it?" Suspense falls by the tracks and red herrings are stuck all over the place. Ultimately, this movie goes in too many right directions, and then takes all the wrong turns
Starring: Emily Mortimer, Woody Harrelson, Ben Kingsley. Director: Brad Anderson. Rated R