Tuesday, December 28, 2010

[DVD] Transsiberian (2008)

Magic Carpet Ride

One of the many mantras we all learnt from young was never to talk to strangers, because we do not know if they're hiding any ulterior motives. But when you're on vacation, sometimes in being friendly we open up to others, and hopefully allow for the sharing of experiences forge new found friendships. Not always with a positive outcome, but it wouldn't hurt just to be friendly, especially with those who are travelling in the same direction and sharing the same cabin for an extended period.

The Transsiberian Express traverses between Beijing and Moscow, taking 8 days between destinations and is the world's longest train journey. I haven't been on any extended train journeys, so if the opportunity arises, I don't see why not, especially when it offers the views as what can be seen in this film (albeit some locales being stood in by others). For the couple Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer), the long way home via rail is something of a given since Roy is a train nut, with Jessie not minding the journey since it provides for plenty of photographic opportunities to feed her hobby with the camera.

With Roy being the ever friendly dude on board, he soon befriends a Spaniard and an American couple Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara), who are also travelling the same way, and are drifters of sorts, spending the significant part of their recent lives just travelling between cities. Soon we find that these two aren't just your regular tourists, and everything else perhaps just smokescreen for something sinister coming up, especially when Roy gets delayed when he ogled too long at some abandoned trains, leaving Jessie travelling with the other duo, and Carlos getting a little way too friendly for an acquaintance.

Transsiberian brings to the table a thriller that worked on multiple levels. It plays with the panicky mindset when we get separated from our travelling companion in a foreign land, accentuating this fear really well, while also has some sexual tension brewing that you know will rip a relationship apart if it does boil over. Midway through the film an unspeakable incident happens, with Emily having to cover her tracks with limited success, especially when no thanks to Roy, a narcotics detective Grinko (Ben Kingsley) shares their train cabin, and Jessie's suspicious behaviour just raises too many alarm bells.

Character motivations and their hidden agendas are the showpieces in the film, where it's both easy to try and mask the truth with lies building upon lies, yet on the other hand also easy to break them down in part due to corroboration, especially when you know the law still quite has the upper hand in eliciting responses from common folk. The multitudes of twists in the final act puts this in line with other "couple in trouble when on vacation" genre films such as A Perfect Getaway, only this one had the claustrophobic corridors in train carriages and a beautiful, wintry picturesque landscape.

It's not often that I get to see Emily Mortimer play a major role in a film, so this is a pleasant introduction to that, with Woody Harrelson taking on a character who's relatively muted, if compared to his recent roles of late. In fact his Roy is so whiny and naive, you'd wonder how the courtship actually went. Their characters make quite the odd couple with marital issues to address since they usually sweep them under the carpet, and I suppose this makes the dynamics at play here a little bit more interesting since they get along on the surface only, with some resentment brewing underneath, so what's more therapeutic than to go through an extreme adventure together, and an unexpected one at that.

Written by Will Conroy and Brad Anderson, the latter who was also responsible for this film's direction, Transsiberian emerges as a strong thriller which builds on the fact that a situation like this, or at least the setup, is entirely plausible, if we were to let our guard down, and be overly friendly to strangers who have already marked us for something more sinister. Stay safe and alert while travelling, folks!

The Region 1 DVD by First Look Studios autoplays with previews (6:22) on films like War, Inc, Sukiyaki Western Django, Priceless and Birds of America. The feature film proper is presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer with audio available in English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround or Stereo. There are English or Spanish subtitle options and scene selection is over 12 chapters.

No extras are found on the disc except for the Previews section which contained everything already seen when the disc is popped into the player, and an additional trailer for Contract Killers.

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