Brad Anderson has been responsible for some strong films including The Machinist and Session 9, as well as directing a few episodes of The Wire and of The Shield, both excellent shows. So hopes were high.
However Jessie begins to realise that not is all as it seems with their new found friends, and begins to think that perhaps they are getting a little too involved with them. Their journey gets even worse when they meet a Russian policeman on board, played by Ben Kingsley, and soon both Jessie and Roy will see how far they'll go for each other and for survival.
Sounds good doesn't it? It also seemed really intriguing since it does take place on, or near, the Transsiberian Express.
The film is a very good thriller, and it does have some interesting characters who play out and develop really well.
Harrelson and Noriega are good in their roles, but I couldn't help but feel neither of them are fully exploited or pushed. This film really does give Mortimer a lot to deal with and her performance is perhaps the best of the film with Kingsley coming a close second. He was good, but on a few occasions his accent slipped and it sounded almost Scottish, it was a weird thing to hear.
The biggest part of the film actually goes to the locations and the train themselves which Brad Anderson has done a great job of filming. Some of the shots of the speeding train are spectacularly shot and complemented with some terrific sound which really give a feeling of strength and power, it is perhaps the best looking character in the film, but like the others I did feel it could have been made much more of.
As for the locations, well they are fantastic and range from beautiful and charming to downright imposing and nasty, such as the scene at the abandoned airfield. It certainly was a great choice to film it on location and the film is much better off for it.
As for the story, well I found quite a few disappointments in it. There was a very interesting change of morality in the characters, although not all of them were explored well enough. The moment that Jessie uses the stick is interesting, as are the number of times she swings it. Watch for that scene.
However you can see that this isn't much of an exploration of the morality, merely a moment that makes the audience sit up and take notice and think that maybe this good character is going a little too far.
Yet by this point she's also been tainted by the story and been shown to be in a little bit of a bad light. By far the most interesting character change that grabs hold of the idea behind the film, is of Roy, but this is never really touched on other than running along for the ride and seeing him change far too quickly.
There are some pretty stock moments in the story that stick out a little too much, the scene at the end with the child, or the one that really made me snort with disdain was Jessie trying to get rid of her bag at the station.
You won't believe how incredibly contrived and poor that moment is, let me describe it for you. Jessie is clutching a bag she wants to get rid of and the train has just stopped. She steps onto the platform and looks around for somewhere to drop it - bingo, there's an open bin.
She walks over to it, the moment is stretched out and the tension builds and then...the ultimate horror...someone closes the lid!
Panic starts to set in as she frantically looks around for somewhere else to dump the bag.
Excuse me...wait just a moment, couldn't she just open the lid again? Couldn't she throw it under the train? Couldn't she have thrown it out the window? Oh yes, two windows were stuck so there's no chance of throwing them out anywhere else.
Oh the whole set-up just seems so contrived, and I just watched the moment in total disbelief thinking that there were so many other things she could have done to dispose of the bag.
In that moment Anderson lost me, it seemed utterly ridiculous and contrived.
There was another strange moment for me that I couldn't quite grasp, and that's when Jessie and Roy wake up on the train and are looking through their carriage. Surely the moment of realisation after this sequence would have been a much bigger moment, and yet I didn't feel the impact or the shock of their situation. I thought that this would have been a huge moment for the film and the characters.
Before that though I never really felt a great deal of tension and I never felt as though I was being pushed to the edge of my seat until the scene a little later on where they all leave the train and head to the airfield, then the film takes a total change of momentum.
I was rather disappointed with Transsiberian. I had expected it to be a much stronger film, and not to carry the stock moments and contrived plot turns that it did, especially from Brad Anderson.
There were some good things to be had, like the performance from Mortimer, the appearance of Kingsley and especially Noriega, and the great locations and shots of the train plowing through the snow. However none of this was enough to make the film as good as his others.
This could have been a much stronger and darker thriller, really looking into what people are willing to do to save themselves and their relationships.
Q&A with Emily Mortimer:
Emily Mortimer has such a husky voice, and she let the odd swear word slip out which was very amusing and rather refreshing. It wasn't in an offhand way, there were times when she really did mean the word she used, and I liked that. It was an honest and engaging Q&A, so much so I missed the following film for it.
Surprisingly she didn't know any of Brad Anderson's previous films and she had twenty four hours to decide on the script. She loved it so much that she had to say yes as soon as she had read it.
She does point out that bludgeoning someone to death is rather exhausting and she does think it's the first time she's killed someone on screen.
The film gave her a great opportunity because she speaks Russian and has lived there and she really enjoyed returning. Three months of getting drunk in Lithuania.
She would never consider taking the Transsiberian Express herself and thinks that the six days on board would be enough for her to hit someone in the head for real!
Talking about the story of the film and the feel of her character she mentioned that she thought Woody Allen's Match Point (Filmstalker review) had a similar feel with a murderer getting away with his act and the audience feeling sympathy for him.
She thinks that the character is admirable and heroic but also a little crazy. At least I think that's what my notes said, she could have been talking about herself!
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UK IMDB Film Details
Filmstalker's Edinburgh International Film Festival 2008 page