Brad Anderson has done it again. He’s taken a simplistic story about guilt, mystery and morality and woven it into a deeply complex, nail-biting experience that feels like it’s wound with twists and turns.
Transsiberian (2008, Blu-ray)
Directors: Brad Anderson
Producers: Antonia Nava
Writers: Brad Anderson and Will Conroy
Features: * Trailers * Making-Of Featurette
Woody Harrelson ... Roy
Emily Mortimer ... Jessie
Kate Mara ... Abby
Eduardo Noriega ... Carlos
Thomas Kretschmann ... Kolzak
Ben Kingsley ... Grinko
Transsiberian Blu-ray Review
Any time you leave your house, your city, the places you know well, you lose a part of yourself--your identity. If you get lost in a big city or in a deserted landscape, you’re just a passing tourist, self-obsessed and not very important for any indigenous observer with whom you seek refuge or help. It’s a terrifying thought, too, that in the middle of this place, where no one knows who you are, and no one cares, you could get lost, not just physically, but mentally.
Set in the icy cold hell of a depressed middle Russia, on the world famous Trans-Siberian railroad, Jessie (Emily Mortimer) and Roy (Woody Harrelson) find themselves in just this situation. Roy is absorbed by his own train-loving hobbies, forgetting to be the sharp, powerful husband with better judgment he promised to be. Jessie, on the other hand, is forgetting who she is, slipping back into her "bad-girl" past and finding herself paying a deadly price for this infraction.
On the train, they meet Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara). They seem like simple tourists, more seasoned perhaps, but not much different than Roy and Jessie. But, underneath the surface, all is not what it seems. After a deadly encounter with Carlos, Jessie returns to the train, shaken by the event. It’s here that she discovers that Carlos has placed a significant amount of heroin in her bag. With a sniveling police officer (Ben Kingsley) as Roy and Emily’s new bunkmate, tensions boil with unexpected, and shocking, results.
Brad Anderson, who directed 2004’s "The Machinist," takes his cues from master filmmakers like Roman Polanski and Alfred Hitchcock and this trend continues to be evident in "Transsiberian." Anderson skillfully paces his epic by crafting a suspense-filled mystery padded with surprises and genuinely great performances--all of which are masterfully edited into a taut, fast-paced whole.
This is a film that rarely loses momentum once things start moving and thankfully Anderson and co-writer Will Conroy do a fantastic job orchestrating the characters in such a way that they feel developed and whole instead of rushed and inconsistent. The film only falters a few times when characters make unusual or irrational decisions and little emotion is expressed over these conclusions. Certain scenes, like the finale, are also wrapped up a little too neatly, with a few too many loose ends.
There’s rarely a moment though, where the film feels tiresome or even cliché despite some lightly written characters. Jessie is given enough depth to feel real, portrayed with gust by Emily Mortimer. Mortimer makes you understand her past without too many shades of it peeking through, that is, until it’s necessary. Then, she becomes unwound and nervous; driving tension into the film’s smoggy second and third act. Woody Harrelson’s Roy is given little screen time to develop his own character. But Harrelson masters the technique of subtlety rather quickly, painting Roy as an honest, naïve, but strong-willed buffoon with a nagging savior complex. Their characters drive the film to near-perfection, despite the occasional flaws in logic.
Brad Anderson has done it again. He’s taken a simplistic story about guilt, mystery and morality and woven it into a deeply complex, nail-biting experience that feels like it’s wound with twists and turns. The film plays, in some ways, like a mature, more poignant variation of "Hostel," sans the gratuitous exploitation. Replaced, instead, by innocent characters that are soon to see their near-perfect world torn apart by greed, lies and betrayal--their identities lost in the shuffle. And Anderson even postulates that only truth, a payment for their errors, can set them free.
Film Report Card:
Entertainment Value: A-
Film Value: A-
"Transsiberian" is presented on Blu-ray in 2.35:1 widescreen, encoded in 1080p/VC-1 video on a BD25 disc. Like a few of First Look’s more recent titles, black levels seem to be an issue. Blacks here are a tad too dark, cramping certain scenes and robbing the eye of meticulous details and depth. It’s not wholly distracting, but during darker sequences, it proves a touch disappointing.
Still, this is a fine encode, sharp and well-detailed, free of digital compression issues or nasty print damage like dust and scratches. A light, consistent layer of grain (standard with most Super35 prints) covers the transfer, proving that DNR has not been applied and this image, for the most part, remains untouched. Colors are steely, but not distorted by an added hue of blue (as is done with several ice-themed pictures). The results are inexplicably better than the DVD, even during the less detailed moments. This transfer reaches high, and nearly succeeds, but falls narrowly short with just a few inconsistencies that rob it of a "reference" rating.
I really wish First Look would break their BD25 trend and adopt dual-layer BD50 discs as their standard for all titles, even if they need to cost just a little more. Unfortunately, disc space proves to be an issue here and a high-res audio track is not provided. Instead, we’re treated to a fairly strong Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. This is a well designed track, filled with surprisingly aggressive front and rear discrete effects and clean dialogue. Bass is also well placed and robust. Considering the budget, it’s masterfully done.
That said, despite a top-notch design, I felt that the track could have sounded a little cleaner. For example, there’s a moment in the middle of the film where Jessie is frantically running in the woods. Here, I noted a faint audio distortion coming from distracted surrounds. I assessed that in this scene, and a few others like it, surrounds were unable to process the ambient effects and background noise due to lower bandwidth. The result: a less appealing surround experience. I would have loved to hear how icy and crisp this scene would have sounded with a high-res track. Perhaps a re-release down the line will ratify this mistake.
• Making-Of Featurette (SD) -- Running a fairly long 33-minutes, this featurette broadly covers the film’s production, from origin to post. The featurette is tiresomely paced with lazy interviews and boring on-set footage. There are a few moments of genuine insight here that a tightly paced, shorter documentary could have better gleamed with more satisfying results.
The disc is packed in the usual ‘Elite’ Blu-ray case. Design is classy and in keeping with First Look’s other titles.
"Transsiberian" is a clever, well woven Polanksi/Hitchock-type thriller complete with nail-biting mystique and tightly wound characters that slowly unravel by film’s end. If you love a good thriller, this film will appeal to you in mass. The Blu-ray could have used just a few tweaks to the audio and video. A few additional supplements granting further insight would have been greatly appreciated as well. Still, this disc fairs better than the DVD and should please this film’s growing fan base.
Blu-ray Report Card:
HD Content: D
Recommendation: Well worth a rent. Fans should pick this one up.
On DVD and Blu-ray: November 4, 2008.
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----R. L. Shaffer