"Transsiberian" is a handsomely remodeled variation of a cherished genre you might call the mystery-train movie. Updated by the director Brad Anderson ("The Machinist"), who wrote the screenplay with Will Conroy, it skillfully manipulates familiar tropes: innocents abroad, ominous glowering foreigners, conspiracy and duplicity, erotic intrigue. Until it fizzles in an anticlimactic train crash, it is extremely entertaining.
Ben Kingsley, seen briefly at the beginning of the movie before disappearing, only to re-emerge much later, plays Grinko, a duplicitous narcotics detective. A sophisticated embodiment of a cynical middle-aged Russian with a double vision of his country during and after Communism, he lends the movie a modern Dostoyevskian gloss.
As the ill-fated train whistles from Beijing toward Moscow through a desolate, snow-covered landscape, with many stops along the way, you lean back and prepare to get lost in a Siberian gulag where you can't speak the language and have no global positioning system or even a compass for guidance. The paranoid mood intensifies during the first two-thirds, in which the suspense is comparable to that found in the best films of that mystery-train master, Alfred Hitchcock. Once the movie turns into an action-thriller aboard detached, runaway railroad cars, however, it ends up sidetracked.
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