by HELEN GEIB
“Transsiberian” refers to the trans-continental passenger train between Beijing and Moscow. Two of its passengers are Jessie (Emily Mortimer, excellent in the lead role) and her husband Roy (Woody Harrelson), American innocents abroad who become caught up in the fallout of a drug deal gone bad. The film received a limited theatrical release incommensurate with its broad popular appeal. This is a really entertaining suspense drama. If you’ve ever enjoyed a Hitchcock film, order up Transsiberian today.
Jessie and Roy meet Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara) when they share a sleeper cabin for the Siberian leg of the trip. The younger couple says they’re sightseeing after a stint teaching English in Japan. Since they are patently suspicious characters, it gives nothing away to say that they are neither of them what they claim to be. The same holds true for Russian narcotics detective Grinko (Ben Kingsley). Grinko was introduced to the audience in a prologue at the crime scene left by the drug deal, and reappears under suspicious circumstances to take Carlos and Abby’s place in the cabin.
Discovering who these people really are, what they want, what they’re planning, and what they’re capable of is one of the narrative pleasures of Transsiberian. Another is learning about Jessie and Roy. Jessie and Roy are not suspicious; they are exactly the Americans taking an adventurous scenic train ride after completing a church-sponsored charitable visit to China that they appear to be. The discoveries with them come from learning what they’re capable of, individually and together, when threatened. Carlos and Grinko strike up the casual friendship of traveling companions with the American couple. That superficial acquaintance leads them to make a number of assumptions about Jessie and Roy, not all of them well-founded. They are in for some surprises, and so is the audience.
Plot machinations join with the character revelations in creating suspense. The story is skillfully constructed and paced to create maximum tension in its audience. Most of the action takes place on the train, and the film fully exploits the claustrophobic confinement of the setting. The Russia outside is no safe harbor, though. The things that happen to Jessie and Roy when they leave the train send them running back to it as a refuge. Transsiberian is a real nail-biter right up to its satisfying conclusion.
Other new releases this week: Get Smart, Kung Fu Panda, When Did You Last See Your Father