Monday, 7 December 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Transsiberian

Here's a little-known but interesting oddity which no doubt has been overlooked by many over the past year. Transsiberian is the new film by Brad Anderson, most famous for directing the sublime thriller The Machinist, starring Christian Bale. The film has been going around the indie circuit over the past year, having its official premiere in the UK at last year's Edinburgh Film Festival, but I have been unable to find an official theatrical release on IMDB, so I am under the assumption that the film went straight to DVD. I first heard about the film through an advertisement for the DVD release in Empire magazine, and was intrigued at the prospect of a new Brad Anderson film and the presence of Woody Harrelson, who just seems to be in everything this year. No really, I mean it. Between playing a blind meat-salesman cum pianist in Seven Pounds, a madman obsessed with Twinkies in Zombieland, and now in Transsiberian he plays a jolly and kind Christian on his return home from a mission in China with his wife, played by Emily Mortimer. And once again, despite being the "name" of the movie, he does play more of a supporting role as opposed to Mortimer's lead role which dominates the film. Anyway, the couple on a "Transsiberian" train from China to Russia encounter another couple, to whom Roy, Harrelson's character warms to, whereas Jessie, Mortimer's character, does not, for reasons to be found out as the movie progresses. To start with the good about the film, the acting in the film is solid. Mortimer does a competent job of portraying what is I must say a difficult character with many different arcs. Also, Ben Kingsley aka Sir Ben, plays a Russian detective in the film and gives a good performance here, with a convincing Russian accent that would, despite us knowing him as Sir Ben, would convince anyone who didn't know otherwise that he was Russian. However, his role does not dominate the screen, and as such he plays very much the role that he did in Fifty Dead Men Walking, playing second fiddle as a supporting player once again. I'm sorry, I've got to say it though, but Woody Harrelson gives the best performance in the film. While in every film he is in he is quite clearly Woody Harrelson, with his distinctive Texas accent, but he has such a brilliant chameleonic quality which means that while this is clearly Harrelson, he is quite clearly also the film's character. In this he portrays just a very nice man, and does it well. Its not a brilliant performance, but by all means it is the best in the film. Also, the fresh and slick cinematography by Xavi Gimenez is solid, managing to maintain a great sense of restraint and control over the technical aspect of the film. Finally, it cannot be denied by any means that Brad Anderson is a talented director with a real niche in the thriller genre. He too shows great restraint throughout, never over-directing at a single point in the film. The big however must come along, and to start with the problems, I must really target the script. Now Anderson and his screenwriting partner Will Conroy are clearly good at writing a script which builds tension wonderfully and creates some interesting characters. My big problem with this film, and to compare it to The Machinist (call me a hypocrite, I know I hate comparing, but sometimes it really is neccessary), The Machinist had all this and more. The big problem with the script is not the development of tension or characters, but the plot itself. The plot is the core to any good script, and virtually every good film full stop. Whereas The Machinist had a really well-structured plot without any holes, this film has real gaping plot holes throughout. Now, there's a difference between not telling us things for the sake of mystique and what have you, but here it is completely over-exploited and over-played. It really annoys me when thrillers have really good formula but leave these holes for the sake of not spending enough time on rewrites. By no means is the plot altogether bad, it just seems structurally very lazy particularly in the last thirty or forty minutes of the film. Also, the plot is too convuluted for its own good. The whole Ben Kingsley Russian Detective aspect of the film could have been eliminated, or if they wanted to follow that route, eliminate the other couple from the script, though their presence is completely neccessary to the story and would garner the neccessity for a near complete rewrite of the film. It gets too muddled and tangled, much to the film's detriment. Also, another problem is that Mortimer's character is quite clearly the dominating character in the film, who to be fair does have a behemoth task with this very complicated character. However, it is my belief, and I'm sure numerous film fans agree, that the effort of acting or underplayed acting should be more so from the lead and more well-developed character than any other actor in the film. Granted, it is a hard role, and maybe I'm being harsh, but I don't believe Mortimer pulled it off, and I didn't have much feeling for the character as a result of her acting, which is quite clearly the point of the role and the characters internal conflicts. Finally, the film, which really does enough potential to be a really solid and genuinely good thriller, ends up being unremarkable, even in its own positive merits. Unremarkable is really the one word to describe the film. It's not horrible or bad, but it's unremarkable. And by the way, in the film Harrelson wears glasses, unlike the poster, which tries to give off one of those slightly confused and scared poses of him for the sake of marketing.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Disappointed

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