Transsiberian (2008): Brad Anderson’s Suspense Drama, Starring Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer

First Look July 18

Sundance Film Fest 2008 (Premieres)–In Brad Anderson’s suspense drama “Transsiberian,” what begins as a dream journey of a young American couple quickly turns into a nightmare of haunting proportions. Set over a period of seven days, this updated Hitchcockian thriller takes place aboard the legendary train that links the Far East and Europe, stretching from China to Russia over 7,865 kilometers.

While watching this picture, you’ll inevitably think of all the great movies set aboard trains, from Hitchcock’s “The Lady Vanishes” and “Strangers on a Train” to Sidney Lumet’s glossy adaptation of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” to Lars von Trier’s noirish black-and-white “Zentropa.”

World-premiering at the 2008 Sundance Film Fest, “Transsiberian” is now released theatrically by First Look. A reworking of a genre film, it should be Brad Anderson’s most commercial work to date, following “The Darien Gap,” “Next Stop Wonderland,” and most recently “The Machinist,” with Christian Bale. Helmer Anderson has taken the trip himself after studying Russian in college in the 1980s.

As the central couple, Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer give likable and credible performances. Following a stay in Peking, where they helped local children, Roy and Jessie decide to give their relationship one last go and have another adventure together, travelling on the Transsiberian from China to Moscow through all the exotic, wild, snow-laden landscapes.

On the train, Roy and Jessie discover that the Transsiberian is no longer the luxurious train it once was before the fall of the USSR. The previous cache of the famous train has disappeared, leaving cold steel carriages and taciturn fellow passengers, reputed to include drug traffickers.

They take solace in the company of a fellow western couple, Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara), and everything seems to be going well until the quartet decide to get off the train at one of the stops, which signals alert.

Indeed, when Roy misses the train and gets separated from the rest of the group, Jessie gets off to wait for him. Out of friendship and solidarity, Carlos and Abby offer to wait as well. However, it soon becomes clear that Carlos and Abbey may not be the innocent and caring couple they initially appeared to be, a theme that runs through most of Hitchcock’s thrillers and most train-bound narratives.

The ensuing tale, co-written by Anderson Will Conroy, unfolds into a series of thrilling twists and turns. Things change dramatically with the appearance of narcotics inspector Grinko (Ben Kingsley, in another stretching turn), who earlier had investigated a drug-related killing in Valdivostok. Unwittingly, Roy and Jessie get caught up in the dark world of smuggling and betrayal, all along realizing that while the train is in motion, there is no getting off.

After the long build-up, the second half of the picture delivers the expected generic thrills with another sexual menace, another brutal murder, and physical torture that put to test the marriage as well as the personalities of the partners, who need to make quick but uneasy decisions under time pressure and duress.

The acting is good. Harrelson’ blend of intensity and charisma proves right for the role of the hubby, and so does Emily Mortimer’s vulnerability. Mortimer is particularly good in an intimate scene with Abbey, where she reveals a more sexually wild and emotionally volatile past that might explain her seemingly current passivity and quietness. In this respect, too, Jessie belongs to the milieu of Hitchcock’s classy and complex heroines.

Physical shooting in China, Lithuania and Spain offers visual pleasures, and the exotic sites serve as momentary relief from the claustrophobic nature of the story, half of which is set aboard the train.

The Boston-based Anderson, who’s a quintessentially Sundance Fest director, proves that he is more versatile than given credit too. An indie helmer at heart, he has made half a dozen pictures, which may vary in quality but are not repetitious in genre or style.


Roy…Woody Harrelson
Jessie…Emily Mortimer
Grinko…Ben Kingsley
Abby…Kate Mara
Carlos…Eduardo Noriega
Kolzak…Thoma Kretschmann


A Filmax Intl. presentation in association with Canal+ of a Julio Fernandez production for Castelao Prods. in association with Scout Prods., co-produced with Universum Film, Telecinco Cinema, Future Films and Lithuanian Film Studios.
Produced by Fernandez.
Executive producers, Antonio Nava, Fernandez, Carlos Fernandez.
Co-producers, Tania Reichert-Facilides, Alvaro Augustin, Todd Dagress.
Directed by Brad Anderson.
Screenplay, Will Conroy.
Camera: Xavier Gimenez.
Editor, Jaume Marti.
Music: Alfonso De Vilallonga.
Production designer: Alain Bainee.
Art director: Inigo Navarro.
Set decorator: Asta Urbonaite.
Costume designer: Thomas Olah.
Sound: Rupert Ivey; sound designer, Albert Manera; re-recording mixer, Marc Orts.
Visual effects supervisors: Jordi San Agustin, Mariano Liwski.
Visual effects: Infinia, Cubica.
Stunt coordinator: Tomas Ereminas

Running time: 110 Minutes.