Sara Vilkomerson’s Guide To This Week’s Movies: Fox In the Snow

It was a box office battle between two unlikely superheroes last weekend: the booze-bag Hancock played by Will Smith, trying to hang on to his Fourth of July domination, and Hellboy, a big red hero who loves kittens, Selma Blair and media attention. Surprise! Hellboy II: The Golden Army won it, earning over $13 million on just Friday alone. That’s impressive! But really, can’t we all just admit that we’re just killin’ time till The Dark Knight opens? Enjoy it while it lasts, Ron Perlman!

 

S0, YES, EVERYONE is in a tizzy over the new Batman movie opening this weekend, but it’s going to be awfully crowded getting into that IMAX theater for a while. … Why not try an indie? Opening up this weekend is Transsiberian, a favorite at the last Sundance Film Festival. Indie director Brad Anderson (Next Stop Wonderland, The Machinist) has turned his attention to a forgotten Hollywood subgenre: the train thriller. In this case, the train is the formerly glamorous but currently falling-into-dishevelment Trans-Siberian Express, which travels from Beijing to Moscow. An American couple, Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer), are aboard, after doing some work with their church in China. The couple’s personalities are established pretty early on: Roy is a Midwestern gee-whiz kind of hick (Mr. Harrelson reaching back into his Cheers bag of tricks), but Jessie, we notice right away, just might not be the sweet, smiling, shiny-haired lady she appears. As Roy yuks it up and makes friends with his fellow passengers, Jessie chain-smokes and quotes Tennyson. (And you know what that means!) The couple meet some fellow Westerners, Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara), and form that kind of bond one makes when traveling in a foreign country where no one understands the language and customs. But this other couple is downright shady, especially Carlos, who starts gazing at Jessie in quite the inappropriate manner. (After having sex with his girlfriend in the same train compartment as Jessie and Roy—who does that?)

Jessie, eventually, reveals that she was quite the bad girl before meeting Roy. And Roy, who is a train enthusiast (natch), gets left behind at a station, leaving Jessie stranded and waiting for him with her new friends. And from there the movie lurches into all sorts of unexpected territory. Mr. Anderson has a nice steady hand when it comes to pacing suspense, and his script, co-written with Will Conroy (son of Frank), delivers surprises right up to the end. Ben Kingsley shows up as a Russian narcotics inspector, and being the male Meryl Streep of accent work, nails it (at least to our totally Western ears). Mr. Harrelson doesn’t get much to do beyond dimple and earnestly exclaim things, but the always terrific Ms. Mortimer turns in a memorable performance, giving her character as many shades of gray as the Siberian countryside.

Transsiberian opens Friday at the Angelika.

svilkomerson@observer.com

Sara Vilkomerson’s Guide To This Week’s Movies: Fox In the Snow