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Transsiberian - suspense DVD / drama DVD / Academy Award-winning DVD review
TRANSSIBERIAN Rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 4 stars
Actors: Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, Kate Mara, Eduardo Noriega, Ben Kingsley
Director: Brad Anderson   Studio: First Look Pictures
DVD release: 04 November 2008   Runtime: 111 min.
(1 disc)
Format: Color, Dolby, DVD-Video, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
DVD features: Audio tracks (English - 5.1 Dolby Surround, Dolby Digital Stereo), Subtitles (English SDH, Spanish), Previews

It is difficult to review a well-made thriller such as Transsiberian. So much of its success depends on its tightly woven, well-crafted plot. To discuss this plot risks revealing too much, thus spoiling many of the surprises. Let me just say that director Brad Anderson clearly knows his Hitchcock, and fans of thrillers won't be disappointed.

The basic plot that I can reveal: Roy and Jessie, an American couple who have worked for a church in Beijing (Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer), take the Trans-Siberian train journey from Beijing to Moscow (at eight days, it is the longest continuous train journey in the world). They soon meet up with Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara), a friendly yet suspicious-seeming young couple. This relationship soon devolves into a web of deception, drugs and murder, culminating with all four being targeted by Grinko, an ex-KGB detective (a menacing Ben Kingsley).

Importantly, the film takes the time to set up each character, which makes the viewer care much more for them when the suspense kicks in full gear (which it does). Harrelson (in a remarkable departure from the repugnant, fearsome thug he played in pictures such as Natural Born Killers) plays a character who is very kind, loyal and likeable, yet also alarmingly na´ve. Noriega finds the right note for Carlos, playing him as handsome and charming but also clearly dangerous. Mara's Abby appears to have been wounded in the past and always seems to have her guard up. She is friendly enough but not a woman you would want as your enemy. And consummate pro Kingsley finds just the right note as Grinko, a detective who you do NOT want after you. He can clearly read his suspects like a book, yet easily conceals his own secrets from them.

Still, this is mainly Mortimer's picture. Her role is the least cookie-cutter and the most fleshed-out and human. Her character has a sordid past and still has a touch of "bad girl" in her, yet she also clearly loves the almost too-trusting Roy. Jessie's actions infuriated me at times, yet I still cared and feared for her throughout the film. The success of a thriller such as this one often rests on giving us a hero or heroine to care about, and Mortimer pulls it off.

All the elements of a classic Hitchcock or Christie thriller are here: an ominous, isolated setting (a train chugging through bitter, minus 23-degree Siberia); a MacGuffin (in this case, in the form of Russian stack-dolls); a murder (though I will reveal it is NOT who you might suspect); a brutal torture scene; moments of great suspense and close calls; times where seemingly doing the right thing turns out to be the wrong thing; and numerous surprise plot twists (though a few are a reach in believability).

Grinko has the key line in the movie:
"In Russia, we say that with lies you may go forward in the world, but you may never go back."
The plot twists around this line, never letting go of it. It is fitting that this film is set on a train, for a classic Hitchcock thriller often moves like a train: it starts off slow, taking the time to introduce its characters, yet steadily builds momentum and is going full bore when it reaches its destination. Fans of thrillers should like this one.

None really (not unless you count trailers), which was a disappointment. Since this was obviously a difficult shoot, at least a making-of featurette would have been nice.
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reviewed by Trent Daniel
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