Brad Anderson's eagerly-awaited return to the big screen since his 2004's critically-acclaimed THE MACHINIST sees him again in fine, if not groundbreaking form with his latest thriller, TRANSSIBERIAN. Obviously paying a tribute to the great Alfred Hitchcock, Anderson hones the master's claustrophobic tradition of train-thrillers that perfectly recalls THE LADY VANISHES (1938) and spins a good old-fashioned suspenseful yarn we never get to see much these days.
The story, in the meantime, is a classic set-up -- Right after fulfilling a goodwill church mission in Peking, American married couple Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) decide to return home via Moscow on the famed train of Transsiberian in the dead of winter. The slow, six-days train ride back to home is Roy's idea since Roy himself is a great train afficiando, while they also figure it's a perfect opportunity for the both of them to work out their slightly unstable marital problem. Just as their marital problem is still on the rocks, along comes their cabin mates, ruggedly handsome Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and his much-younger girlfriend, Abby (Kate Mara), who has spent the last two years teaching English in Japan. Within a short time of period, both couple become instant friends and even share each others' little secret. Whereas Roy is as naive as ever, little does he know at all that Carlos has his eyes fixed on Jessie. There's some disturbing vibes Jessie has particularly sees on the so-called friendly Carlos but she is somehow sexually attracted to his rugged charm. As the film progresses, we slowly learn that Carlos and Abby shared dangerous secrets together, in which it doesn't take long before Roy and Jessie has unexpectedly landed themselves into bad situation. And of course, this has much to do with the film's opening scene features an eager Russian narcotics agent Grinko (Ben Kingsley) who has earlier investigating a frozen corpse with a knife buried at the base of its neck.
Seasoned genre fans will immediately recognized whatever surprises the film is going to lay out as the story slowly unfolds, in which writers Brad Anderson and Will Conroy plays it as straightforward as possible. There's no sudden, come-out-of-nowhere twist in this film here and basically, TRANSSIBERIAN sees Anderson flat-pedals the genre convention in the generic way possible.
Still, Anderson's masterful execution in which he slowly builds the carefully-laid out suspense as the climax takes place remains a must-see anyhow as everything here are so smoothly accomplished you wouldn't even mind how generic it's going to be. But really, what makes the otherwise predictable-looking TRANSSIBERIAN an extra edge is Anderson's keen observation for his thought-provoking and flawed characters that keeps the film pumping. While Woody Harrelson's extremely restrained part as the naive Roy doesn't make much of an impact here, it is Emily Mortimer that shines throughout the film. Here she is terrific as the emotionally-conflicted Jessie, and her finest scene in this film is nevertheless the one with the guilt-ridden, sexual tension she is risking involved with Carlos. The rest of the supporting actors are equally great, while Ben Kingsley delivers his usual fire he's always good at.
Technical credits are superb, with Xavi Gimenez's moody cinematography -- all filmed on locations in Lithuania, Spain and China -- gives the film's disturbing aura reflecting on the uncertainty as frigid as the frozen and snowy landscape, while the camera is always on the claustrophobic tension whenever the setting is inside the train.
Though TRANSSIBERIAN doesn't qualify as Anderson's earlier best works he had in THE MACHINIST (2004) and SESSION 9 (2001), this neat little thriller worth a look especially for those who fancies something crisp and old-fashioned thriller yarn.