Transsiberian (2008) is a movie thriller that really does thrill. It's one of the most gripping films I’ve seen in a long while. The script is intelligent and taut; the cast is excellent, and is headed by Woody Harrelson, a versatile actor I very much admire, and Emily Mortimer (daughter of the late Sir John) and includes Ben Kingsley.
The story opens dramatically, with the discovery of a murdered man in Vladivostok. Inspector Grinko (Ben Kingsley) suspects that the crime is connected with drug trafficking. But then Grinko disappears from the action and attention switches to an American couple (Harrelson and Mortimer) who have just completed work on a charitable project in China.
Harrelson’s character is gregarious, and thanks to him, the Americans befriend a very attractive younger couple, a Spanish man with a girlfiriend from Seattle, who share their compartment on the Transsiberian Express. Unfortunately, Mortimer finds herself attracted to the Spanish chap, and the complications escalate from there.
It takes a long time for the action to erupt in this movie, but we are never less than fascinated by the interplay of characters. Harrelson is a cheery do-gooder, Mortimer has a dark past and is dissatisfied with the marital status quo. Their relationship is put under intolerable strain, and part of the appeal of this film is the way in which the couple face up to the challenges with which they are confronted. When Kingsley shows up on the train, all charm and subdued menace, we are never quite sure whether he is one of the good guys or one of the bad guys.
The Lady Vanishes and Murder on the Orient Express were earlier crime films of quality that were set mostly in the confined space of a train. In my opinion, Transsiberian deserves to rank with them as one of the best train-based films ever made.