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Review: Transsiberian (2008)

Directed by: Brad Anderson | 111 minutes | drama, thriller, crime | Actors: Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, Ben Kingsley, Kate Mara, Eduardo Noriega, Thomas Kretschmann, Etienne Chicot, Mac McDonald, Colin Stinton, Perlis Vaisieta, Mindaugas Papinigis, Mindaugas Capas, Visockaite Sonata, Larisa Kalpokaite, Jasinas Krulikantskasi, Videvicasius Antanas Surgailis, Kristina Kulinic, Jin Zhou, Emilis Welyvis

Ah yes, the train. In the past, the ancient steam locomotive was the way to get to your destination. Over the years, the traditional tuffer has had to make way for the car and plane. The train is no longer as prominent in cinema as it was in the golden years of Hollywood. Only in historical films, especially about the Second World War, do they still pop up here and there, often in an ominous setting. The magical effect that the train had in the work of Alfred Hitchcock, for example – with ‘The Lady Vanishes’, 1938 and ‘Strangers on a Train’, 1951 as the most striking examples – is rarely seen in contemporary cinema. . Brad Anderson, director of ‘The Machinist’ (2005), goes back to the days of yore in his thriller ‘Transsiberian’ (2008): threatening,

Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) volunteered in China for several months before embarking on their return journey to the US. To end their trip to Asia in style, they take the Trans-Siberian Express, the legendary eight-day train journey that will take them across immense and icy Russia to Moscow. Their (Russian) fellow passengers are anything but friendly and the staff does not really welcome them on board. This should not spoil the fun, especially for the naive train madman Roy. Before long, he and Jessie are joined by a Western couple who come to share their compartment. They are the Spaniard Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) – who knows a lot about false passports and customs evasion – and his much younger American girlfriend Abby (Kate Mara). Although Carlos in particular is immediately very amicable, the two remain very mysterious and elusive. At a stopover in Irkutsk, the foursome gets out to get some fresh air, but when the train leaves again, Roy appears to have disappeared.

Jessie panics and decides to get off at the next station to wait for him. Carlos and Abby are loyal and are left with her. And that’s where the real problems begin… Carlos turns out to be a charlatan who wants to have Jessie pay for his crimes. When she manages to break from his clutches, she gets into trouble with the corrupt Russian narcotics Ilya Grinko (Ben Kingsley) and his terrifying and life-threatening sidekick Kolzak (Thomas Kretschmann).

Imagine yourself on board a speeding train full of hostile, unfriendly Russians with whom you cannot communicate and whom you cannot trust. Plus, you carry a huge burden on your shoulders, but there’s nowhere to go in the claustrophobic, grim environment of a train. That’s pretty much how Jessie feels on the fast-paced Trans-Siberian Express. She is a young woman who struggled with problems and addictions in the past, but who she managed to cope with thanks to her lover and faith. However, her past always remains a heavy burden that she has to carry with her. British actress Emily Mortimer portrays this complex character in a convincing and intense way. It is therefore with her that you actually sympathize. The other characters are shown quite one-dimensional. Harrelson is the sympathetic but very naive Roy, a kind of boy scout on a world trip. Noriega is extremely seductive as the ‘wrong man’. You know from the start that he cannot be trusted, but you still get carried away by his charms. Mara is mysterious and Kingsley (with an excellent Russian accent!) Once again adds an exotic character to his impressive list of achievements.

The acting of this fine cast is pleasant, but the emphasis in ‘Transsiberian’ is mainly on the tension. Brad Anderson, a skilful director, carefully manages to stage the unrest under the skin. He starts quietly, introducing the characters, but soon this gets a lot of momentum that takes you along and from which you can no longer get rid of. The pace is good and you will not be bored for a moment. What difference does it make that some events are not equally credible; Anderson doesn’t give you time to dwell on that for too long. ‘Transsiberian’ – wonderfully chilly and oppressively shot by cinematographer Xavi Gimenez – is not only about a running train, it is also one of its own. Old-fashioned exciting and intense, just sit back and hold on tight!

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