Movies can be set in any number of different locations. As any professional location scout will tell it the choice of where to tell a story is one of the most important decisions a director, writer and producer can make. It can literally make or break a film. One of the best places to use is a transcontinental train. There is an air of romance combined with an inherent thrill. For a horror flick it is a place that can confine the potential victims. This ploy also works nicely for genres like mysteries and thrillers. It confines the action and therefore the options of the protagonist without the dank and overly dark atmosphere of an old fashion haunted house. For most people such a train is a reminder of days long gone by. Most would rather fly and get to their destination quickly. The train is an experience all its own. Perhaps the most famous passenger train in film is the Orient Express; setting of more than one great mystery. Another line, while less known, shares all the incredibly elements is the Trans-Siberian line. What makes it work so well in a movie is the sheer scope of this train line’s route. It runs through 5,800 miles spanning a record seven time zones. The accommodations run the gamut from luxury compartments to basically steerage. This affords a wide variety of cultural and socioeconomic types to bolster any story. The latest film to use this historical form of transportation is simply named ‘Trans-Siberian’. It is a star studded crime thriller that is one of the best films of the year. After so many really bad flicks that claim to be thrillers when one like this comes around it does nothing short by reaffirm my faith in the art of cinema. Even the late, great master of the genre Alfred Hitchcock would most likely smile in approval of this film. Made for a somewhat modest budget of $15 million it had more to work with than most independent movies. So far it has enjoyed a few international releases as well as making the Indy festival circuit including the famous Sundance Film Festival. If you haven’t been abroad lately and haven’t made it to the festivals you can still experience this film. First Look Studios has released this movie to DVD and Blu-ray so do yourself a favor and add something well worth while to your growing film collection.
Will Conroy and Brad Anderson provide the script for this film. They do so well here that one can only hope that they continue their collaboration in the future. This is the first feature length screenplay for Conroy. He has one short script prior to this. Anderson has several scripts to his name in a wide variety of genres ranging from comedy to science fiction and drama. The basis of this story is what draws in the audience. It is concerned with an American couple on a trip on the famous railway. They are slowly pulled into the dark world of drug trafficking and murder. This is the definition of a story about reasonable people drawn into the most unreasonable of circumstances and how they have to adapt in order to survive. This gives the audience a pair of protagonists they can readily identify with. It is a stretch to get the viewers to form an emotional bond with a professional killer or drug dealer. This plot device gets the audience something to hold on to as they are moved into the story. There is a precision in this script that you don’t see too often of late. The pieces of the puzzle are laid out subtly requiring the audience to pay attention to the plot as it unfolds. This is not a movie that you can put on in the background; it demands the full attention of the viewers.
By the time of this movie’s release Anderson was already a well established director. He is well respected as one of the darker and more stylistic directors on the scene today. He was even selected to represent this unique style as one of the Showtime’s series ‘Masters of Horror’. He also has does his share of television but even with this his tastes was well served on series such as ‘The Wire’, ‘The Shield’ and ‘Homicide: Life on the Street’. All of these shows were acclaimed for their tight scripts and complex plot lines. He uses his camera like a surgeon would a scalpel dissecting each moment constantly exploring the twists and turns of the plot. Anderson takes just enough time to let the individual elements of the film simmer; combining to a crescendo at the conclusion. It is great to find a director who knows how to build suspense in a film like this. The train offers such rich possibilities for atmosphere that it takes a patient director to bring out the richness of the setting and juxtapose it against the talent of this cast.
An American married couple, Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jesse (Emily Mortimer) are returning home from China. After a stint on a Christian mission they wanted to end their time in Asia with a little bit of adventure so they decided to take the famous Trans-Siberian Express. Roy is outgoing and friendly by nature so it is not unexpected that he strikes up a conversation with fellow passenger Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) who is traveling with his American girlfriend Abby (Kate Mara). Jesse is more reserved and has some trepidation about becoming so friendly with a strange couple out in the middle of nowhere. At one point Carlos shows Jesse his collection of dolls which should raise a little suspicion with the young woman. During a stopover Roy decides to take in a little sightseeing. When he misses the departure of the train Jesse wants to get off at the next stop to wait for him. Carlos and Abby offer to get off as well so she will not have to wait by herself in a strange country. The three proceed to wait at a local hotel and have dinner. While there they see the same kind of rare dolls that Carlos showed Jessie. This gets Abby upset and she leaves for bed. What follows is a cat and mouse game revolving around drug smuggling, deception and betrayal.
What makes this film work so well is how Anderson allows the characters to develop and grow. He reveals some hidden tings in the past so that even the good characters have a dark corner lurking just out of sight. This is a character driven movie that draws the audience in and holds them there. This is what a suspense thriller used to be and it is fantastic to see this quality back on the screen again. While Harrelson is best known for comedy but here shows his ability to take on a dramatic role like this. Mortimer is one of those actress who works hard and always gives a masterful performance. The DVD and Blu-ray editions of this film are released from First Look Studios. As usual they are a great place to find little movies that did not necessity receive the marketing they deserved and therefore were not afforded the audience it deserves.