| Transsiberian


Brad Anderson

UK / Germany / Spain / Lithuania, 2008


Review by Rumsey Taylor

Posted on 06 May 2008

Source 35mm print

Categories The 2008 Independent Film Festival of Boston

“Transsiberian” refers to a train route that more-or-less extends from Beijing to Moscow. The word itself, an adjective, invokes a larger meaning as the title of this film, describing the confluence not only of differentiated cultures, but also of unwholesome, latent character traits that become circumstantially manifest. It is with some amount of excitement that I report that the film climaxes responsibly in a train wreck.

Trumpeting this confluence of culture and of conflictive character traits from the start is Sir Ben Kingsley, obscured inadequately beneath a fur hat and a thick eastern Russian accent. He’ll wield a knife with suddenness and poise, and enunciates syllables in the same fashion—and I say this not to demean the film, which is as much a series of dire ultimatums as it is a showcase for Sir Ben Kingsley’s accent. This says little of the remaining actors, none of whom is an able match for Kingsley in terms of screen presence. Instead, they populate his world; they provide conflicts that he is to either exploit or resolve, and the film concerns one such conflict that becomes iteratively more chaotic.

There are smuggled drugs, lots of money, deception, manipulation and incrimination, all of it dressing for massive compromises in character of a young, befuddled American woman. In the final scene, her face exhibits a constellation of wounds, and this image is sufficient in communicating the entire story: she got in to something she shouldn’t have gotten in to, and it’s probably her own fault. The problem is that, at this point late in Transsiberian, the woman is still beautiful—she’s endured great and unforeseeable hardship, but she remains untransformed, only lightly scared.

Transsiberian makes suspenseful and sometimes violent gestures, but it’s all decoration. There’s a young, charismatic Eurasian couple - a catalyst for the American woman’s unethical whims - who forward mystery mysteriously. There’s the picturesque Russian setting that looks more like a template for a postcard than it does the imprisoning, foreign setting from which the American characters are to question their ability to exit. And I haven’t described the drug smuggling, a MacGuffin relayed hastily from person to person. It all looks and sounds like a movie—an adequately serviceable one, in all fairness, but not the exemplar of suspense and intrigue it extends itself with great effort to be.

My criticism of this film is magnified by its status as the opening film in an independent film festival. The director, Brad Anderson, has connections to Boston (having lived on Highland Avenue, a spoke emitting straight from where his film screened at the Somerville Theatre), so Transsiberian’s presence isn’t entirely unsound. But it’s anomalous in this festival, which tends toward more produced by-the-skin-of-your-teeth fare. An independent film, perhaps, but one clearly gentrified by Hollywood predilections.

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