It's every American's worst nightmare while traveling: to get befriended by a couple of drug dealers, caught up in a murder conspiracy and hunted by a corrupt detective and former KGB agent who looks a hell of a lot like Gandhi. Yes, Transsiberian is the nightmare scenario we all fear, but it's also a pretty decent movie.
Emily Mortimer, Woody Harrelson and Sir Ben Kingsley star in the Brad Anderson thriller about a somewhat naive American couple who decide to take the multi-day train ride from Beijing to Moscow. Amidst freezing temperatures, these tourists plow through the snowfields of Siberia, unknowing that their lives are soon going to take a turn for the worse. They meet two other, much more well traveled passengers, a Spaniard named Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and a Seattleite named Abby (Kate Mara), and immediately bond with them. A few bad decisions and one fatal misstep later, however, the two Americans find themselves in the crosshairs of a narcotics detective (Kingsley) who will stop at nothing to get some missing drugs - and money.
Transsiberian is one of those oddities, a movie with a strong, well-known cast, great word-of-mouth, a marketable story and yet a complete lack of promotion or a profitable release schedule. Put a few million into marketing and it would have been easy to make the money back and then some, as there are enough people who would go see an adult thriller packed with sexual tension, murder, drug trafficking and an honest-to-God knight. Transsiberian is a well-written, well-directed and well-acted movie with a solid plot and an entertaining premise.
Unfortunately, Transsiberian isn't perfect. The movie suffers from "stupid protagonist syndrome," which is readily found, spread and contracted in horror movies, and at times in thrillers such as this. No, Coen brothers movies don't count - their characters are intentionally dumb. In Transsiberian, Emily Mortimer's character, who, by every stretch of the imagination is the lead actor in the film, is one dumb bitch. And I don't mean that lightly. She makes so many mistakes in this movie and then, when she has the chance to come clean and get out of the mess she's started, she sticks her head in the sand and makes things worse. I literally threw my hands up in the air a few times (and called her a "dumb bitch") out of frustration. There's a right way to have characters make stupid mistakes, and there's a wrong way. Anderson and co-writer Will Conroy still need to master the art, apparently.
It's a real shame, because Mortimer's actions are the difference between a good movie and a great movie. Minor alterations to her character and the plot could have really made Transsiberian a believable film, but instead the movie unravels into an entertaining yet unrealistic tale. Transsiberian is a well-made picture, and I'd still recommend it, but a few tweaks could have moved it into "Top Ten" territory.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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