Americans abroad. Roy and Jessie finished a volunteer stint in China. He loves trains, so they go home via the Trans-Siberia Express. There are strains in the relationship, including her past. They meet Carlos, a Spaniard, traveling with Abby, a young American. Carlos keeps close to Jessie, and when Roy is left behind and waits a day for the next train so he can catch up, Jessie and Carlos take a trip into the dead of winter to photograph a ruined church. Carlos may be running drugs, so, later, when Roy catches up and introduces Jessie to his new pal, an English speaking Russian narcotics detective, he's the last person Jessie wants to see. Will the Siberian desolation be their undoing? Written by
A handful of familiar plot elements (all used effectively by Hitchcock, so let's not look down our noses here) is vividly drawn in a great location. We're not on Amtrak and the more perilous side of American's traveling in distant lands is beautifully rendered by the director Brad Anderson and sensational cinematography by Xavier Giménez.
However, it's the cast that takes this from something routine to something very unsettling. Emily Mortimer gives a fine performance as a woman trapped by her past. She does more with this role than perhaps was written and finally cinches her place as an actress you can count on. Two supporting roles, Eduardo Noriega being a great predatory villain who sees a mark in Emily Mortimer's character and plays her for all she's worth. At his side is an unsettling performance by Kate Mara, who with less to say makes a very vivid impression as a girl who's both mysterious and sympathetic.
Woody Harrelson stumbles, but he's always interesting to watch. His character doesn't belong in this film (which is almost the point of the movie) but he plays naive closer to dumb (or dumber). And we understand why Mortimer may be frustrated with her marriage, but it's halfway through the film that lots of beans are spilled about her past and everything we've seen and will see is dead on and convincing.
Less convincing is the plot which isn't up to the level of the other elements. I'm not sure in a real world these characters would have faired as well as they do or nearly so long.
Ben Kingsley shows up and works fine as someone who may be the lifeline to our travelers, but as the action heats up too many things require answers that the plot doesn't have time (or the audience much interest) in figuring out.
Yet it's one of the better films this summer. And if you don't like what's going on with the plot, you can always look at the exotic frozen Lithuanian scenery, or the shadows of fear the Emily Mortimer sends across her face tingling up our own spines. Terrific performance.
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