Just days after watching The Machinist I settle in for Brad Anderson’s next feature film, Transsiberian. Of course going into Transsiberian I had no idea that it was a film of Anderon’s, but the cinematography (directed here again by The Machinist’s cinematographer Xavi Giménez) tipped me off to look for correlations between the two. Although Transsiberian didn’t look terribly interesting from the trailers of it I’d seen on other First Look Studios releases, it did still have some kind of visual element that drew me in.
U.S. couple, Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer), decide to take the long way home from their recent sojourn in Asia on the legendary Trans-siberian Express train from Beijing to Moscow. On their way, they meet another couple from the West, Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara), with whom they quickly form a familiar bond that often unites fellow travelers away from home. When Roy accidentally gets separated from the group at a stopover, Jessie begins to realize that their compatriots aren’t exactly who or what they seem to be. The real danger begins to surface as a deceitful Russian detective (Ben Kingsley) and locals terrorize Jessie in this unforgettable journey.
While the visuals drew me in, it was the story that kept me in place. As is so often with First Look pictures, I often find myself stereotyping them before I even see them. The fact of the matter is more often than not, First Look puts out some incredibly dodgy and bewildering films at times that make me question how the studio manages to make money. But then films like Transsiberian come along and I’m reminded not to judge a book (or studio, in this case) by its cover. Although the film starts out slow enough, very soon we’re thrust into a whole other world that leaves you on the edge of your seat, sending chills up your spine in ways you don’t often feel from other “suspense” films.
That is a key distinction with this film, I think, is that it isn’t merely something to shock you and make you jump in your seat. As I found with The Strangers, subtle thrills can go a long way and that’s where Transsiberian excels. The excitement of this film in particular stems just from the way it is directed, with uncomfortable camera angles or shots that linger. It’s also a much more intriguing film than the description would lead you to believe, as it takes a very unorthodox approach to telling its story.
While the end of the film isn’t quite the sucker punch that The Machinist was, it is still quite satisfying. In a way it almost seems as if the story was “let up” on so that it didn’t end in a particularly strange manner as to alienate an audience and it went with a much more generic approach when all is said and done. This isn’t particularly shameful or disappointing, but the film did so many unique things to begin with that it was kind of surprising to see it do so little with the ending. I don’t know what expected, however, so I can’t really comment on how it could have been better.
Whether it’s Harrelson’s exceedingly touristy expressions and glee over riding a train or the reactions of Mortimer and Mara, the film is also harshly grounded in reality. None of it ever feels like it’s been overblown, nor does it ever feel unbelievable. That is what is what keeps your attention to this film so rapt is that you genuinely believe it could happen, rather than something that may seem a bit incredulous.
Overall while I may have been a bit light on details concerning the story, don’t assume this story is merely about some people on a train. It’s infinitely deeper and more engaging than that and I implore you to check it out. It may not make it onto a lot of peoples radars, but if you happen to see it in the store on your next rental rip or catch a glimpse of it while shopping this holiday season, then check do give it a look—unless you are not a fan of engaging thrillers, you won’t be disappointed. Recommended.
First Look Studios has released this film in a standard Elite Blu-ray case without any inserts and has included a simple and easy to navigate menu. There isn’t anything really overly assuming about this release in appearance, but you’ll be surprised by the film it contains. You’ll be even more surprised if you bust this film out on an HD set, as the VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer is quite remarkable. The same stark visuals that accompanied The Machinist are included here, although with a noticeably whiter hue at times (due to the snow and surroundings). It’s dank at times to be sure, but visually this is a stunning film to watch. This is really quite a brilliant looking film that is only made the better by the HD transfer. Sadly there is only a DD5.1 track included here, but it really isn’t anything to scoff at. Admittedly this film is made so intense by its direction, characters, and dialogue, all of whom come through brilliantly in the video transfer and sound crystal clear in the speakers. It’s not a particularly room enveloping experience, but overall this track isn’t terribly disappointing…although an oddity for the Blu-ray format (unless you’re Warner Bros. who seem to take delight in releasing films with standard DD5.1 tracks). Those looking for less can listen with an English 2.0 track and flip on the English SDH or Spanish subtitles.
The only extra here is a thirty-four minute The Making of Transsiberian that surprisingly isn’t your usual EPK fluff. I was really quite impressed by this extra, simply because it genuinely informed me about the film’s production and wasn’t something I felt I could have done without seeing. While a commentary would have been wonderful, this making-of does wonders for its run time, really getting down the essentials of what it was like to make this film and the experiences the cast and crew went through. There is also a smattering of trailers, but none of these are high-definition (and neither is the making-of for that matter).
Overall this is a bit weak on the extras and the lack of HD audio is a bit of a downer, but overall this release still comes Recommended. As with most First Look films, this one is relatively cheap when compared to other releases ($18.99 as of this writing on Amazon) and I’d say it’s worth it to pick up this Blu-ray over the standard release, as not only do we get a fantastic video transfer, but this also contains the making-of that the DVD release doesn’t (oddly enough).
Transsiberian is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.