An American couple, Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer), decide to take the long way home from their recent sojourn in Asia on the legendary Trans-siberian Express train from Beijing to Moscow. On their way, they meet another couple from the West, Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara), with whom they quickly form a familiar bond that often unites fellow travellers away from home. When Roy accidentally gets separated from the group at a stopover, Jessie begins to realize that their compatriots aren't exactly who or what they seem to be. The real danger begins to surface as a deceitful Russian detective (Sir Ben Kingsley) and locals terrorize Jessie in this unforgettable journey.

Mystery-train thriller chills, then goes off the rails

The mystery-train genre gets an inspired, inventive work-out in writer-director Brad Anderson’s Transsiberian, a taut thriller which deals with innocents abroad, drug-trafficking, murder and corruption in the new Russia.

Essentially the tale of two ordinary people facing extraordinary moral dilemmas, the film builds suspense nicely until the final reel, when it veers off the tracks into cheap melodrama and a disappointing, far-fetched conclusion.

Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) are a naïve American couple who’ve been teaching English in China on a church-sponsored charity program. On their way home, they decide to take the dingy, rickety old train which travels from Beijing to Moscow. Their companions in the sleeper’s double-decker bunk beds are handsome Spaniard Carlos (Eduardo Noriega), and his much younger girlfriend Abby (Kate Mara), who claim they’ve been teaching English in Japan.

Carlos is way too friendly and charming, is carrying a suspicious quantity of porcelain dolls, and is soon flirting with Jessie, a reformed bad girl who tells him, 'I wish I’d met you back in the day. Nothing clears the head better than a good, pointless f"¦."

It’s a slow-moving journey for the first 20 minutes or so until Roy goes missing after the train stops in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, there’s a violent incident in the ruins of a church, and narcotics inspector Krinko (Ben Kingsley) comes aboard.

The enigmatic Krinko is a fascinating character who’s given to uttering aphorisms such as, 'In Russia there are two kinds of people: those who leave by private jet and those who leave in coffins," and 'With lies you may go forward in the world, but you may never go back."

The screenplay by Anderson and Will Conroy keeps the audience guessing about Kinko’s motives, while Jessie wrestles with a terrible dilemma. The acting is uniformly excellent: Harrelson is alarmingly good as a loyal, dim-witted chump, Mortimer strikes just the right notes as the tormented, conflicted Jessie, and Kingsley brings all his guile and stagecraft to the cynical Grinko, who pines for the certainties of life in the old Soviet Union. It’s just a shame about the cop-out ending. Generous extras include a Making Of"¦ featurette.


1 hour 51 min
Wed, 07/01/2009 - 11