The Transsiberian is a train that takes a 6-day trip across the old Soviet Union from Beijing to Moscow.
As the film begins, however, we learn that there’s been a murder on a Russian boat and some drugs have stolen. Local cop Grinko (Ben Kingsley is in charge of the investigation, but what has that got to do with the locomotive?
When we join the principal characters of the movie, we find married couple Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) are on the trip of a lifetime, despite having their marital difficulties over whether to start a family. She’s good at being snap-happy with her camera while he’s great talking to people, so on a packed train they’ll have plenty to keep themselves from talking about the issues that matter. Doesn’t sound gripping so far, but bear with me.
Before long, their 4-bed cabin is shared by a couple with about 15 years between them, 20-year-old Abby (Kate Mara) and Carlos (Eduardo Noriega). Things aren’t 100% plain sailing with them either, and it doesn’t take a genius to realise there’s an attraction between Carlos fancies Jess. And with Harrelson in his simpleton role, he doesn’t twig a bean either. Soon after, Roy and Jess get separated in Irkutsk following a train stop, but why does Carlos have something shifty about him?
Beyond that, it really does take a major turn away from anything predictable I might’ve thought originally. How things pan out would be to give spoilers so I won’t do that, but it is a near-2hr running time that’s well worth a watch. That said, by the time it gets to the end, it sums things up nicely, so – as long as you don’t mind a film that gets just a little bit made once or twice – you will not be left disappointed.
This is more Emily Mortimer’s film, but not for the reasons you’ll assume from my review so far. However, this movie shows her at the best I have seen her.
Oddly, the titles for the cast’s end credits, which are crammed onto one screen, are all done in the tiniest of fonts. I’m sat relatively closer than I should to a 37″ plasma, so anyone viewing from the normal viewing distance to that, or the average of a 32″ widescreen TV, won’t be able to see them at all.
Overall, Transsiberian takes a little bit too long to get going as it sets the scene for the first 20 mins, albeit necessarily, but after that there are many tension-filled scenes including a gripping 30 minutes in the middle before things get a little bit daft but, as I said, it is a film that does bring to you a satisfying ending.
And any film that has the song Love Will Keep Us Together is a win for me, ever since The Simpsons used it in an episode for ‘Love Day’, especially the opening credits of Get Over It, even though the rest of that particular film gets rather tedious, particularly in the second half.
The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks superb, really bringing the harshness and bitterness of Siberia to the screen. Occasionally, early on, the picture takes a moment to settle down but as long as you don’t intend to read any of the end credits which just get blurry as they progress, you’ll be in for a decent watch. My viewing experience was helped by watching itupscaled to the plasma screen via an Xbox 360. There are sound options for Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1, so I chose the latter. It’s mostly used for dialogue and ambience and is fine, but there are occasional moments where it gets to shine but I’ll let you discover those. That said, it’s not a blastathon so it doesn’t need to shout out at you the whole time.
There are only two extras here, starting with a Making of – with cast and crew interviews (33:57), in letterboxed 16:9, which begins with the director telling us how he took the Transsiberan trip when he was younger which sewed the seed for the basis for the movie, and then there’s a mixture of on-set filming with snippets of cast and crew telling us bits about the film and their time making it. It’s interesting stuff but, weirdly, about 11 mins in, the dialogue from Emily Mortimer giving her voiceover, goes from sounding normal to sounding like she’s in an echo chamber. It’s realllllllllllly weird! Did the makers of this DVD listen to it? Thankfully, it affects no-one else.
This piece really does a great job of telling how they made, for example, the train scenes claustrophobic while showing how things came together – but I’ll say no more about that, again, so I don’t spoil anything.
There are subtitles only for a handful of cast/crew, i.e. those that don’t speak English, expect for some of Director of Photography, Xavier Giménez’s words, whose dialogue goes along in unsubtitled Spanish, rather like an episode of Eldorado.
There’s also Deleted Scenes (10:45), some of which serve as extended ones, in letterbox 2.35:1. There’s a couple I’d slip back in (which I can’t reveal the contents of here, but they were the second one and one of the very last ones) but I can see why they were removed for timing purposes as they didn’t particularly progress the plot.
Prior to the main menu comes something that should’ve been left behind in the age of rental video – trailers for forthcoming DVDs. There’s the ‘Extras’ menu for this sort of things, hence, I’m not going to mention the titles featured here. Elsewhere on the disc, there are subtitles in English only and there are just 16 chapters to the film, which isn’t really enough as I work on a basis of one every five minutes, plus a separate one for the end of opening and beginning of closing credits.
Running time: 107 minutes
Studio: Icon Home Entertainment
Released: March 2nd 2009
Region(s): 2, PAL
Chapters: 16 plus extras
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English for hearing impaired
Widescreen: 2.35:1 (Super 35)
Disc Format: DVD 9
Director: Brad Anderson
Producer: Julio Fernández
Screenplay: Brad Anderson and Will Conroy
Music: Alfonso Vilallonga
Roy: Woody Harrelson
Jessie: Emily Mortimer
Grinko: Ben Kingsley
Abby: Kate Mara
Carlos: Eduardo Noriega
Kolzak: Thomas Kretschmann
Manager Hotel Pushkin: Perlis Vaisieta
Embassy Official: Colin Stinton
Female Train Attendant #1: Visockaite Sonata
Female Train Attendant #2: Larisa Kalpokaite
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.