EIFF Film Review: Transsiberian

20 Jul

The Transibberian Express is a journey that for many holds near-mythical status. Much like the Orient Express, the idea of stepping aboard a train in Vladivostok (who knows anyone that’s ever been to Vladivostok?!) only to disembark days later in Moscow has an air of romance about it – this is no Edinburgh to Glasgow commute with a cheap day return for under a tenner.

I was lucky enough to make some of the journey myself, taking a trip on the lesser-known Trans-Mongolian Express after a less than enthusiastic travel agent in Australia failed to work out how I could get from Beijing to Vladivostok in enough time to make the start of the Transsiberian trip.

Still, 15 days or so crossing the Gobi, Mongolia and much of Russia wasn’t exactly a kick in the teeth, and it was with this knowledge I came to the new Hollywood spin on the journey, simply entitled Transsiberian.

Taking as its starting point the death of a man in Vladivostok, the investigation overseen by detective Grinko (Ben Kingsley), we are soon introduced to young couple Jessie (Emily Mortimer) and Roy (Woody Harrelson) who are travelling from China to Moscow before returning to the United States.

Meeting another couple on the train, Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara), Jessie’s world is sent spinning as a web of lies and deceit start to derail her journey in more ways than one…

One of my all-time favourite films is The Lady Vanishes and it doesn’t spoil anything too much to say that this film has traces of Hitchcock’s classic in its DNA. Mysterious strangers, dodgy authority figures and moral dilemmas abound in a story that never feels too overburdened with homages, but rather relishes their inclusion as it plays with the audiences expectations.

A leisurely start allows a chance for us to get to know Jessie and Roy, or at least think that we do, with Mortimer in particular offering up a restrained performance that gets increasingly emotional as events progress. Harrelson is fine in support, but unsurprisingly it’s Kingsley who steals the film from under everyones’ nose as the charming and disarming detective.

Director Brad Anderson ensures that Russia looks amazing, the snowy landscape that the train twists and turns through looking picture postcard at all times.

However all of this doesn’t change the fact that Transsiberian isn’t quite as smart as it thinks it is, its unusual setting an attempt to throw the viewer off the scent. Located anywhere else, without the atmospheric backdrop or the foreign police officer, and this would be a lesser film, Hitchcock homage or not.

Worth checking out for a glimpse of that mythical journey I mentioned earlier, if the film inspires a few more budding Michael Palin’s to take a trip to Moscow and beyond, that’s no bad thing.

Review by Jonathan Melville

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