Saturday, September 27, 2008

Transsiberian (2008, Brad Anderson)

After the eerie but scattershot Session 9 and the somewhat listless The Machinist, Anderson finally shows some real aptitude with the thriller genre with his latest film, set largely onboard the titular railroad. Much of this is due to the fact that he finally decided to pay attention to the quirky little details that previously distinguished his lighter films, Next Stop Wonderland and Happy Accidents. This is especially true in the first half of the film, in which the central couple (nicely played by Emily Mortimer and Woody Harrelson) begins making their way across Russia on the train. At the beginning, very little about their journey goes wrong, but small things contribute to a sense of unease- a disagreeable stewardess, the awful music (The Captain and Tennille) that plays constantly in their cabin due to a broken on/off switch, and so on. Naturally, by the time a friendly English-speaking couple (Kate Mara and Eduardo Noriega) boards the train, Harrelson and Mortimer are quick to make friends, despite Mara’s seeming reluctance and Noriega’s overly-insistent manner. From here on out, the inconveniences begin to worsen, but Anderson’s filmmaking is so assured here that they never feel over-the-top, even after one of the characters commits a serious crime. Everything felt more or less plausible to me, and this wouldn’t have been possible had Anderson not taken the time to really establish his central characters. Another element I liked was that it was Mortimer, not Harrelson, who really drove the story. Harrelson is fine here, cast against type as a nerdy train enthusiast. But while most thrillers would no doubt turn him into an action hero in the final reel (I chuckled when he remarked, “I dropped my glasses!,” anticipating this turn of events), his utility is limited largely to finding a means of escape and a fairly exhaustive knowledge of trains. But it’s Mortimer who carries the story. This isn’t a story where she gets them into trouble and he has to get them out- she ends up doing both, and in the process keeps her husband somewhat in the dark for large portions of the story. Much of the movie deals with the idea of owning up to one’s actions and being truthful to one’s spouse, which makes the climactic scene of the film somewhat disappointing, since it’s never clear that she really fesses up to what she’s done to Harrelson. Still, despite the slight letdown in the final reel, Transsiberian is nonetheless a highly effective old-school thriller, with plenty of atmosphere, a handful of really good surprise scenes, and absolutely no twist ending, which given all the bad thriller twists of late came as a great relief. Rating: 7 out of 10.

No comments: