Forget about that M. Night Shyamalan guy, he is no Alfred Hitchcock. He may insert some of Hitchcock’s themes into his films, but they sometimes seem to lack the knack for pace and suspense building that many remember most fondly about Hitchcock’s work. When we think back about Hitchcock, his films were less about the big twist and more about the suspense, the intense fear that was built up by putting innocent and ordinary people in situations that were often beyond their control or understanding.
Those same elements exist however, in the work of another modern day director, someone that Variety once placed on their list of the “Ten Leading New Independent Directors to Watch.” But that was all the way back in 1997 when his first film, The Darien Gap premiered at Sundance. Since then Brad Anderson has gone on to direct such acclaimed films as Session 9 and The Machinist. He debuted his most recent film Transsiberian, which stars Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer as a couple of unsuspecting American tourists who find trouble on their train ride on the Transsiberian railway, debuted at this past year’s Sundance Film Festival, the place where is all began for Anderson.
“It is a story that evolved out of having taken that trip,” he told us when we had a chance to chat earlier this week. “It was an experience that stuck with me.” Along with co-writer Will Conroy, Anderson crafted the story of Transsiberian, one that subsequently attracted a fabulous cast. One notable cast member was Ben Kingsley, who plays Grinko, a Russian narcotics detective whose motives are always in question. As Anderson explained, “Ben Kingsley was always our first choice. And once you have an actor like that, others follow.” One particular talent that followed was actress Emily Mortimer, whose performance stands out among the lot of them.
It is the performances in the film as well as Anderson’s dedication to a pace and level of suspense that is reminiscent of Hitchcock that makes Transsiberian one of the more unique, original and well-made films of the year. Having reviewed the film amidst the hustle and bustle of Sundance, it seemed hard to place at the time, but having now seen it a second time I can say that it is a thriller worth investing your time into, a film that is fresh standing amongst the average Hollywood thrillers of the day and a film that truly pays homage to what Anderson calls a “variety of influences” that include not only the works of Hitchcock, but Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” as well.
And since we don’t think that you are going to run out an read “Crime and Punishment” in between now and the time Transsiberian hits theaters on July 18, we asked its director to give us some essential films to see to get us in the mood for his film, some films that would show us what has influenced him on this project. Here are the films that he recommended to us:
- North By Northwest (1959) – Hitchcock’s classic 3,000 mile chase.
- Strangers on a Train (1951) – Another Hitchcock classic.
- The Lady Vanishes (1938) – Hitchcock, yet again. On a train, yet again. Suspenseful, yet again.
- Runaway Train (1985) – John Voight and Eric Roberts trapped on a train with no breaks.
- Dead Calm (1989) – The story of a married woman (Nicole Kidman) who is kidnapped and seduced by a dangerous younger man.
And there you have it — five essential viewings to give you a little perspective on what makes Transsiberian such a well-crafted thriller. As they say, in order to be able to quanitify the best works you must have a thorough knowledge of what has worked best in the past. Alright, maybe that’s not what “they” say, seeing as I just made it up, but that doesn’t change the fact that you should go back and discover some of these older films and then head out to see Transsiberian when it hits theaters on July 18. That is, if you want to see how Hitchcock really translates in the modern day.
For more, be sure to check out my Transsiberian Review from Sundance.