Film Reviews


By • Sep 3rd, 2008 •

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Thrilling ice-cold thriller.

1991, two months before the official fall of the Soviet Union, I toured the country with a retired Major-General of the Army and, my best friend at the time and the general’s inamorata, a controversial psychiatrist. We were on a fact-finding mission to the infamous Russian parapsychology laboratories and attended a UFO conference. Villagers frequently spotted Bigfoot and his tribe. Soldiers also had Bigfoot sightings. We had a tour of Star City, stayed on a warship, and were hosted and watched over by the KGB. We stayed in Moscow at a hotel for KBG dignitaries. Yes, we were watched and our rooms monitored, but I thought that was a good thing!

We had plenty of food, sometimes feasts, while the public stores were empty and lines snaked around blocks. It was very cold.

Nothing got done unless you knew someone. Nothing! Bribes had to paid and gifts exchanged for everything. It was a heroic task to get us overnight train tickets from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

One of our hosts, a well-known psychic healer, had to give a healing treatment to the ticket seller for our cabin at the ticket office. While waiting, we were told not to talk and try not to look like foreigners. Considering the amount of luggage we were standing next to, it was impossible.

Photo of a Bigfoot painting, our warship stay, and manning the table at The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

Today, all I read about is the Russian oligarchs and their vulgar mega-billionaires. Director Brad Anderson (who co-wrote the screenplay for TRANSSIBERIAN with Will Conroy) obviously was charmed with the idea of setting a film on the train route from China through Mongolia to Russia. Train travel in some Asian countries is dangerous, but after doing the Trans-Siberian Railway research online, and seeing the ice-cold, cramped glamour of Anderson’s vision, I’m up for it!

Woody Harrelson, who I just saw as a gay political insider in THE WALKER, plays boy-man Roy, a sweet hardware store owner and train enthusiast who, with his reformed alcoholic, wild wife Jessie (Emily Mortimer), after finishing up their Church mission in China, take the Trans-Siberian train to Moscow. They buy 2nd class tickets for a 4-berth compartment. Their companions are twenty-year old Abby (Kate Mara) and her sexy older boyfriend Carlos (Eduardo Noriega). Abby is very beautiful, but Carlos only has eyes for plain Jessie.

They happen to be on a train targeted by Russian detective Grinko (Ben Kingsley) as harboring a drug shipment. Grinko and his partner, Myassa (Thomas Kretschmann) are ruthless cops hunting for a drug dealer’s money.

Soon Roy is confiding in Carlos and Jessie is confiding her wild past to Abby. Jessie clearly has picked up the signals from Carlos. And he’s damn sexy!

It doesn’t take long for spacey Roy to miss the train on one of its stops, leaving Jessie with Carlos and Abby. They decide to wait overnight with Jessie at a hotel. For some unclear reason, Abby leaves Carlos allowing him to flirt with Jessie and invites her to spend the day with him instead of waiting around in the lobby for Roy to arrive on the next train. At a beautiful relic of an orthodox church deep in the snow-covered forest, Carlos comes on to Jessie. She returns alone.

It doesn’t take long to understand why Anderson chose Mortimer, as the role of Jessie is complex and requires the skill of an accomplished actress. Carlos had his reasons.

TRANSSIBERIAN is an adult thriller with a complicated scenario that is involving and intriguing. It is also quite clever, as Anderson gives us false leads and a volley of misdirection of intentions. Mara, Noriega, (pictured) and Kingsley are terrific, only Harrelson overplays the role of a naïve lovesick hayseed. Kingsley takes his supporting role as an outsider and is the dynamic terror that is pivotal to the story.

TRANSSIBERIAN delivers a fascinating and exotic location and the wonderful claustrophobic pleasure of third world train travel. As this movie was just slipped in theaters, if you have a chance to see it, you will be pleasantly satisfied.

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