9.19.2008

Transiberian

This post refers to the excellent film by Brad Anderson, advertised by the gallery poster on the left, and not the maniacal holiday jams you'll find here.

But, speaking of those jams, I'm actually thinking about forking over the dough this year to see those suckers work down at the Florida Theatre. Would that classify me as a huge dork? Well, prepare the rubber stamp, I guess.

First thing's first: Transsiberian is a really good movie. This story of murder, smuggling and human frailty, contained on a train, is both captivating and beautiful. It grabs the audience from the opening scene and slowly builds toward a satisfying and, dare I say it, thrilling conclusion. Yep, that's right. This is a true thriller. And an adult one at that.

It's made only 1.5 million at the American box office, which is a travesty, but that's also further testament to the enjoyable movie-going experience for this one. The theater is filled with adults! And they like movies! They can shut the hell up and turn their cell phones off for (gasp!) two full hours! That's right, folks. This one runs longer than eighty-two minutes. I guess Brad Anderson assumed we could sit still.

There aren't any jackasses talking through the movie here. No gaggle of screaming tween girls looking for a grudge zombie without a jaw to come tumbling out of the attic. No marijuana-smoke saturated high school boys loudly wondering why there aren't any Saw-like challenges for our protagonist to navigate before being dismembered in the final scene.

No, this is a quiet, contemplative audience that wants to watch a mystery that owes more to Alfred Hitchcock and Agatha Christie than James Wan and Stephanie Meyer.

The direction is superb. Brad Anderson knows how to build tension. His framing is precise, creating a sense of claustrophobia with his use of close-ups and extreme close-ups. The awkward social fumbling of the Americans at the center of the story (played ably by Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer) is accentuated by their close quarters in nearly every scene. Anderson, who did masterful work on films such as The Machinist (2004) and Session 9 (2001) is adept at coaching stirring performances and using the setting to complement strong writing.

And in terms of the setting, the cinematography here is excellent. A frequent metaphor in the film is the chugging train itself, barrelling toward a conclusion that we think we can foretell, but that is surprisingly refreshing in its novelty. Filmed in Lithuania, the forests, meadows and fields that surround this isolated set of railroad tracks lend the picture a real sense of foreboding.

I mean, you feel cold just watching this sucker.

No one plays the wide-eyed American tourist better than Woody Harrelson. The real treat here, though, is watching Harrelson's character transformation as he moves from choo-choo-train-loving yokel to practical survivor. A very nice turn by Harrelson.

Mortimer is believable. It's mostly her story, and she pulls it off pretty well. And Ben Kingsley? Shoot, that man is a treasure. He's a thing to behold here--filled with both menace and kindness and sporting a believable Russian accent to boot.

It's a story about temptation and patience--violence and chance. It's about falling off the wagon in more ways than one, and the consequences that often accompany the impulse to satsify a selfish urge.

I'll be heading to Lakewood Terrace tonight, interested to see if it delivers on the promise of the trailers in what looks like the best menacing neighbors yarn since Pacific Heights.

What are you folks looking at?

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