Saturday, April 25, 2009

TRANSSIBERIAN (now playing at home where watching movies is good for your mental health--watching the news is not)

I dig trains. Started riding them around age seven. There is a romance (of the road) to train travel that no other mode of transportation can match, and you never know who you'll run into(speaking of romance) in the dining car. In Transsiberian, Woody Harrelson's character, Roy, loves trains and he knows a lot about them--knowledge that will prove essential to his and wife Jessie's survival on the Beijing to Moscow run in this engaging mystery/thriller.

Roy's kind of a good ole boy. Jessie's been around--trying to settle down now, but maybe she wasn't quite ready for it and their marriage is a bit shaky, like some of the hand-held camera shots in this film that we've come to accept since the days of NYPD Blue, when connoisseurs of the female form (such as myself) were too busy checking out the ubiquitous semi-nudity on the show to pay much attention to the fine points. (The hand-held camera is supposed to give the action more of a gritty feel, I guess--like when you discover there's dirt in your spinach when you're chewing it.)

Jessie (Emily Mortimer) and Roy share quarters with a young couple--Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara). Tension builds because the Russian narc police are going to be shaking down train passengers at one of the upcoming stops (like the federales on the trains in Mexico do-but all they made me and my companion do was take off our shoes--thinking maybe they'd nab a couple of really STUPID gringos). When Abby hears about the impending drug search her expression gives her away and clues us in to what she and her companion might be up to.

From the get-go, it's evident that Carlos has an eye for Jessie. When Roy gets left behind
(drooling over old locomotives) at one of the stops, Carlos moves in on Jessie--who is too preoccupied worrying about Roy to notice it much at first. But there is something untamed (and wanton--even) in Jessie that is bubbling just beneath the surface, and Emily Mortimer brings that out in her character in a way that piques our interest bigtime in what might transpire between Carlos and Jessie.

What happens proves to be one of the film's major plot twists.

The wild card in all of this is Russian narcotics detective Grinko, (Ben Kingsley) who plays it close to the vest at first--but Grinko has all the conflicting good cop/bad cop traits within himself (played with cunning deceptiveness by Kingsley) and when the bad side emerges, Transsiberian becomes a harrowing thrill ride with unexpected twists and turns and a life or death struggle that will have you shouting, "GIT ME A BEER, MABEL!" cuz you won't want to leave your seat.

The cinematogrophy helps to establish a hypnotic mood with majestic aerial views of the train as it snakes along its icebound path. And the mesmerizing sound track by Alfonso De Vilallonga is one that I'd consider purchasing.

The only thing I'll deduct a few points for is the American muzak that plays over the train's PA system (somebody takes note of it when they finally shut it off). Guess you can't get away from it--even in Russia.


TIMMY'S TIDBITS: Woody Harrelson is a peace and environmental activist...he has dated Moon Unit Zappa. (I dated Betty from Pluto, but she's not famous).

Emily Mortimer doesn't like washing her hair, so she uses dry shampoo. (DRY shampoo? How do you "lather, rinse, repeat" with that?)