What more than a closed train and carriage full of strangers traveling in a snow filled country be the setting for a noir drama? Roy (Woody Harelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) are traveling back from China to Moscow in this longest railway system in the world. Their church or more like Roy’s church has send them for some goodwill programs. Their cabin mates are those dubious characters Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara). Those young and luscious couples are always a danger. Carlos invites and keeps on seducing in subtleties for an eventual move towards Jessie while Abby reminds Jessie in her wild days. Roy is just Roy, a free flowing cheery individual consistently in love with his wife. Add Ben Kingsley in to the mix as this snaky and calmly threatening cop Grinko, you have more than something going on.
There are some breathtaking shots of this train in the never ending white dirt. In the middle of nowhere is this box where time has to be spent with making friends out of strangers and consume alcohol instead of water. Roy loves trains but the couple is having the usual marital issue of having/not having a baby. The film rolls on and in those train stations when the couple split there are some pasts revealed, present buried and a future that has nothing but trouble written on it. Jessie had her days of decadence and debauchery ending in an accident, literally, in dashing with Roy’s vehicle. Roy comes as the guardian angel and forgives her sins and brightens her out of darkness.
Behind those tired eyes of Jessie, there still is that old sweet young girl running away from everything. With Roy the only soul in her life dissatisfied and a closed train with time making its plans, she thinks of those days of unsettled chaotic sprint. Abby reignites those simply by being there. Jessie does a great job in evading those temptations but the situations in noir film does not let it be. In one station Roy misses the train and the three drops off in the next remote station to stay for the next train where Roy hopefully should get on. They have a day to chew and Carlos sets up everything he can to set out old Jessie for a ride. The two go to a remote church and something happens which sets out the ticking time bomb for Jessie there after.
There are drugs, there is suspicion and lies. Emily Mortimer gives one of those performances through Jessie that we are holding melting candle dripping its hot wax post the church sequence. She is on the edge and the stress level goes on like a torture like no other. Conscience is a dangerous and cruel thing wherein it can wither you from inside. But Mortimer’s Jessie shows several sides of her in the vacillation of the thoughts and consequences. If you have a dude like Ben Kingsley in Detective Grinko, sleep is out of question and all is left is painful thoughts of what could have been avoided. Give a bag of drugs accidentally becoming evidence for a murder in the hands of Jessie, you have one of a kind solid noir.
Setting in “Transsiberian” is crucial to its play. It is not a regular stranger in a strange land. It is bunch of strangers in a strange machine in a really strange lands and towns. They are stuck and there is nowhere to go. It does not over do that novelty and takes it out when needed as if to give a breather to its viewer but then pulls off the rug with an essential sequence to march the story forward. Mortimer and Harrelson are wonderful as the couple in a regular marital issue in the wrong time and wrong place while Ben Kingsley as the Russian detective is provides the missing wrong man in the is equation and is nothing short of brilliant. One character late in the film says to Roy and Jessie what his mother used to say, “Don’t talk to strangers”. Easy to say when you are not in the midst of the only people you can cling on to in the middle of nowhere and caged in a machine for several days.