Though sublimely photographed in the most ominous fashion and sufficiently moody throughout, and showcasing a chillingly haunting performance from the brilliant and oft-overlooked Emily Mortimer, Brad Anderson's Transsiberian nonetheless suffers from a bad case of cold contriving calculation. Anyone who has ever watched even a handful of cinematic thrillers can easily guess each and every extremely calculated plot turn in this film about Roy, a good-hearted yet bobble-headed American boob (Woody Harrelson playing aw shucks like) and Jessie, his seemingly overwhelmed wife (the understated bravura Mortimer) who, while aboard the infamously mysterious Trans-Siberian railroad, meet Carlos and Abby (Eduardo Noriega and Kate Mara) the most obviously shady couple this side of a Joseph von Sternberg film. The only thing missing was a big blinking neon arrow over Carlos' head announcing his nefarious plans and warning young damsels to stay away lest they be devoured by this big bad wolf.
A valiant effort by Anderson though, and, as mentioned above, a beautifully filmed movie, Transsiberian - a sort of post-cold war, nihilistic Shanghai Express (to bring up von Sternberg again) - despite its myriad of flaws, still has its moments. You may know everything that is about to happen well before it happens and perhaps the foreboding lothario Carlos is a walking, talking cliché (seriously, how could the character of Jessie, marital troubles or not, hot foreign guy or not, be taken in by this roue?) and each new plot "twist" is conveniently prefaced with a superfluous flashback as if it was not already obvious to those who are still watching what was about to occur, but the visual menace of Anderson's camera (his shots of wide open nothingness, though the complete reversal of his claustrophobic The Machinist, give the same sense of powerlessness to Jessie that weighed so heavily upon the other film's protagonist) and the performance of Ms. Mortimer (she deserves to be much more well known than she is) are almost enough to set this film a bit higher than the step-by-step instruction manual script that everyone is forced to work with would normally have it. Almost. [10/09/08]