Saturday, August 16, 2008

"Transsiberian" is a slick, visual thriller

"Transsiberian" (directed by Brad Anderson) is a thriller that combines the Hitchcock-like deceptions of “Strangers on a Train” with the adventure of “Murder on the Orient Express” and maybe a little bit of the intrigue of “The Cassandra Crossing.” Roy and Jessie (Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer) are an American couple with a rocky relationship. In Beijing, they decide to that the trans-siberian train for seven days to Moscow and work on their marriage. Along the way, the come into social contact with a vagabond couple, Spaniard Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and girl friend Abby (Kate Mara). What follows is a chase of disappearances and adventures, some of them off-train, and an unraveling that really would spoil the film if I said too much now.

Another big star is Ben Kingsley as cop Grinko. Well, is he a cop? Two-thirds through the film he utters one of the few philosophical lines in the film. “In the Soviet Union, we lived in darkness. Now we die in the light.” The lifespan for men had dropped from 65 to 58 in all the privatization, and he is 58.” In fact, we are introduced to his character right at the beginning with a shot of a freighter in the ice-laden Vladivostok port.

Other than this one little bit of philosophizing, most of the film is rather simple and basic as to dialogue, with its constant churning of disappearances and emergences. The film moves forward with striking images, which range from panoramic shots of the railroad, ranging from Mongolia to the Siberian taiga, to the towns along the way, like Irtusk. Much of the local outdoor scenery was shot in Lithuania. And visually, the film has some strong foreshadowing cues. At one point, a horse whinnies in the show, and the train passes close, and you notice there are only three cars. There is a spectacular derailment at the end, reminding you of “The Fugitive.”

This is an example of the new wave of independent film. Financing from several countries (principally Spain, but also the UK, with filming in China and Lithuania also), have some big stars, make the film top-notch professionally and technically, had a small distributor (First Run International Pictures, with Filmax and Canal-Madrid and as the production companies) start the platform theatrical release to get the underground buzz.

An AMC theater in Arlington VA last night at the 10 PM show had about 25 people. I am surprised there were not more.

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