Opening 11 Dec 2008
The Transsiberian Express, one of the world’s most famous trains, is meandering for more than 9000 kilometers through the vast Russian tundra. An unlikely couple, Roy (Woody Harrelson), the enthusiastic, happy, optimistic church man and Jessie (Emily Mortimer), his reserved and thoughtful young wife, are boarding this historic train from Beijing to Moscow. They hope for an adventurous second honeymoon after their voluntary church work in China. An adventure awaits them, but not a honeymoon.
They share the compartment with another American couple, the dark-eyed, charming Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and his pale girlfriend Abby (Kate Mara). Whilst the train runs through the beautiful, white, winter landscape Roy excitedly explores the train, fascinated by the old-fashioned gadgets but unaware that Carlos is a bit too interested in Jessie. The moving train, strangers together in a cramped space, and the exotic atmosphere make for underlying tension. The four of them have no choice but to take their meals together, talk and drink Vodka through the nights.
At a remote Russian town, as Carlos and Roy go off looking at ancient locomotives, Abby and Jessie are stretching their legs on the platform having a “women’s talk” and leisurely watching the souvenir selling babushkas. When the train starts moving, Roy is not on board and Jessie is panicking. What happened to him? No one knows. When Jessie gets off at the next stop, hoping that Roy will join the following train, Carlos and Abby insists on staying with her. By now, Jessie is under extreme stress, feeling lost in this endless landscape of snow. Carlos quietly works his bad-boy charm on her, and one unexpected incident leads to the next. Jessie, the good girl, is pushed to the extreme. When a cheerful Roy arrives to continue the train journey, a shaken Jessie hopes for safety, but her nightmare has just begun.
The two other Americans are no longer on board but Inspector Grinko (Ben Kingsley) has joined them, drinking and joking with Roy, constantly questioning them about the other couple. The sharp-eyed inspector is investigating a drug deal gone wrong that seems to be connected with one of them which sends a shiver down Jessie’s back. She is trapped and pushed into a hopeless situation. Eventually, this wakes up her good-humored, God-fearing husband, transforming him into an action hero. Admittedly, here the story gets a bit over the top, and is running away with the train (literally) before – miraculously – a happy end is in sight.
Despite the obvious weakness towards the last third, the film is a riveting crime thriller mixed with human drama with a terrific performance by Emily Mortimer and a very charismatic Eduardo Noriega. This German/Spanish cooperation is directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist) and scripted with co-writer Will Conroy. (Birgit Schrumpf)