Transsiberian a Siberian train ride worth taking |

Transsiberian a Siberian train ride worth taking

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Jos Haro Courtesy First Look StudiosEmily Mortimer stars in the thriller Transsiberian, showing Sunday through Wednesday at the Wheeler Opera House.

Transsiberian has a lot in common with Tell No One. Both recent films are critically acclaimed thrillers, involving heroes, cops and killers, all of them suspicious. Both are foreign productions that play like American-style nail-biters though the former is mostly in English, with liberal measures of Russian and Spanish, and the latter is all in French. Both reveal glimpses of the past to enhance the present drama and add meaningful depth to the characters.The crucial difference is in how the suspense is built. Tell No One, which is based on a novel by the New Jersey writer Harlan Coben and showed recently in Aspen, is fueled by numerous plot turns so many twists, capped by one final, revelatory double-twist that you wonder whether the viewer is supposed to follow it all.Transsiberian, which shows Oct. 5-8 at the Wheeler Opera House, is a different sort of experience. A British production, but directed and co-written by American Brad Anderson, the film creates tension largely through cinematic technique. It is a language that moviegoers have been trained to understand through decades of thrillers from Double Indemnity to Vertigo to Silence of the Lambs. There are shadows and edgy music. Expressions, both verbal and facial, hang in the air, leaving us to wonder what is not being expressed. As much as anything, there is the setting: Siberia, a frozen, foreign, gray, forbidding zone, a place where we know, from accumulated wisdom, that bad things happen. And not only is it set in Siberia, but on a train, running from western China on its way to Moscow. This train, as portrayed by Anderson and cinematographer Xavi Gimnez, offers little protection from the elements. The crew doesnt speak English though they have ways other than language to convey an ominous tone. The passengers are a rough lot who drink vodka upon waking. The space is cramped, and the cabins, shared with other riders, offer no real retreat. As the numerous tracking shots taken from above remind us, the world outside the train is as menacing as inside wide-open, desolate, cold.Opting for the slow, romantic train over an airplane are an American couple, Roy and Jessie. Roy, played serviceably by Woody Harrelson, is a missionary who had just finished doing some good Christian deeds in China. Roy has the slightest touch of the devil in him hell have an 8 a.m. shot of vodka; he doesnt mind if his actions stir up some trouble for his wife.But it is Jessie who drives this thriller. Played by Emily Mortimer, Jessie has a full-on bad-girl past that includes time rehabbing. Roy seems to have extinguished that episode until it is relit by the couple who share their quarters. Abby (Kate Mara) is a Seattle runaway, too young, too experienced, too wary. Her Spanish boyfriend Carlos, we recognize as the bad guy right away. He is dark and shifty, handsome and flirtatious, and the way he is portrayed, we are urged to pay attention to every last move he makes. When Carlos is on screen, we dont blink. The actor who plays him even got a menacing name: Eduardo Noriega.Thanks to director Andersons sure grasp on style, the psycho-sexual tension between Jessie and Carlos and a quick prologue involving drugs, a murder, and Ben Kingsley as a Russian detective we are on edge from the start. The action really gets rolling at a stop in a Siberian town, that leaves Roy stranded behind and Jessie trapped on the train.Cops turn out to be criminals, sinners are also saints. But instead of a surplus of plot twists, Transsiberian gives us a mix of psychology, setting, familiar cinematic elements, and just enough turns around the bend to make for a thoroughly satisfying thriller and one that wont keep you up at night, wondering just how all the pieces fit together.A note on Ben Kingsley. In the past weeks, Aspen has seen the 64-year-old actor as an intellectual New York Jew (Elegy), a pot-smoking psychiatrist of dubious ethnic heritage, though definitely foreign (The Wackness); and now, a Russian detective. We have also seen him as an Iranian general (House of Sand and Fog), a European Jew (Schindlers List), a South American (Death and the Maiden), a British crime boss (Sexy Beast), an Irish-American thug (You Kill Me), and of course, a revolutionary Indian (Gandhi). Three more ethnicities, and hes got them all covered.

Transsiberian shows Sunday through Wednesday, Oct. 5-8, at Aspens Wheeler Opera

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