Saturday, August 30, 2008

Strangers and strange doings on a train

Who knew that Woody Harrelson could play a church-going normal person? It happens right in front of your possibly incredulous eyes in "Transsiberian,'' a new thriller from director Brad Anderson. Anderson, who previously brought such indie hits as "The Machinist" and "Next Stop Wonderland" to the screen, employs a strong cast with Emily Mortimer, Kate Mara and Eduardo Noriegajoining Harrelson for the Siberian ride. Some good news: Ben Kingsley, who didn't convince me in "Elegy," this time seems entirely credible as a cynical Russian detective who chases drug smugglers. The drama unfolds on a train that's traveling from Beijing to Moscow. Harrelson and Moritmer portray an American couple that has spent time in China taking care of children as part of a church program. On the train, they meet a friendly couple, a Spaniard (Noriega) and the young American woman with whom he's traveling (Mara). The early going has a scruffy romanticism about it: The help on board the train is unfriendly, but the scenery's exotic and the passengers aren't shy about indulging the Russian taste for vodka shots. The plot -- which involves drugs, duplicity and murder -- eventually kicks in, setting off a chain of events that puts the characters into morally dubious territory. A couple of developments caught me by surprise, and if Anderson doesn't exactly rival Hitchcock, he still infuses the movie with a fair share of dark pleasures. Be on the alert, though: A torture sequence proves extremely difficult to watch.

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