REVIEW: Siberia [2018]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½


Rating: R | Runtime: 104 minutes | Release Date: July 13th, 2018 (USA)
Studio: Saban Films
Director(s): Matthew Ross
Writer(s): Scott B. Smith / Stephen Hamel & Scott B. Smith (story)

“So sorry for the bird”

The question is asked with a wry grin, but Katya (Ana Ularu) isn’t wrong to joke that the mysterious, handsome American who walked into her small Siberian town’s café is a spy. Any other film besides Matthew RossSiberia would have made Lucas Hill (Keanu Reeves) exactly that—especially now with the actor so successfully donning a suit to portray the dog-loving assassin John Wick. But that’s not who Hill is no matter how much the methodically measured beats of Scott B. Smith‘s script would have us assume otherwise. That’s not what this erotic crime thriller is about either. He’s just a criminal diamond trader attempting to salvage a lucrative and dangerous deal with a Russian heavy named Volkov (Pasha D. Lychnikoff). Things simply aren’t going his way.

Why you ask? Because his partner in this endeavor—the man with the exotic blue diamonds fetching forty million dollars—is missing. Pyotr (Boris Gulyarin) was supposed to meet Hill at their St. Petersburg hotel, but the concierge explains he left in a hurry instead. So with only thirty minutes before Volkov and his cronies arrive, he must rummage through Pyotr’s room in hopes their sample stone was hidden before his disappearance. Hardly enough time to conduct a thorough search, Hill meets his buyer empty-handed besides a promise to make good on the deal in two days. He’s stalling because he knows his friend’s brother’s whereabouts in Siberia. If he can figure out where Pyotr has gone, maybe he can procure the jewels without losing his own life.

While this premise would assume a race-against-the-clock pace, Siberia conversely moves very deliberately. It introduces its antihero as an enigma of infinite calm and confidence, a man able to keep a straight face while others threaten him in a foreign language before surprising them with an interjection in their native tongue. He’s fluent in Russian, proficient with guns, and connected to a past more than able to place the crosshairs of crazy Volkov, a smooth South African operator named Vincent (James Gracie), and the FSB (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) led by Agent Polozin (Eugene Lipinski) on his chest. It’s no wonder Katya jumps to the conclusion of his being a spy. We do too. But we’re only wasting time if we wait for a twist.

This is the film’s best attribute: pulling no punches in its refusal to trade in deception. Everything onscreen should be taken at face value because the stakes don’t need extra inflation. It’s enough to know Volkov means business and won’t hesitate to wipe the perpetual smile off his face when necessary and to believe Hill is fully aware of this truth too. But Lucas can both fear the inevitably violent confrontation gradually coming into focus and know he’ll escape the warzone before any bullets have an opportunity to start flying. So we can understand his distraction in Katya’s strength and beauty. We can accept his resignation towards not being a “good man” when he takes her to bed knowing his wife (Molly Ringwald) awaits his return back home.

The question is whether or not that distraction impedes the tough, often impossible choices necessary for survival. Their relationship begins on equal footing because both are attracted to the other’s assertiveness. But as his timetable lessens with little to show for his trouble, priorities can’t help shifting in a way that ensures feelings get hurt. And when the truth is laid out, that which could be laughed off behind closed doors very quickly gains sharp focus in the open. Katya’s involvement becomes less a time management liability than an emotional one. There’s a reason he leaves his wife in America during these shady, volatile deals. If any of his enemies can put their hand on her shoulder, you can bet they will leverage her for everything she’s worth.

Providing this love interest is an intriguing move by the filmmakers since her inclusion wants us to see Hill as a man worth saving. They write a mistress to prove a married man possesses the potential to love. That’s weird, right? Their relationship therefore becomes a distraction for the audience because we’re wondering what personal ramifications will result. Even though Ringwald’s Gabby earns about two minutes of screen time in total, her existence should be enough to lead towards a reconciliation of morality, regret, or guilt. But neither of those happens. As soon as Lukas and Katya’s fling escalates, the fact that he’s married more or less drops away completely. It’s this in-over-her-head Siberian who becomes Hill’s actions’ prime motivating factor, so why have a wife at all?

So while there’s no deception as far as changing allegiances or surprise double-crosses like most spy films would, there are a ton of red herrings. There’s Gabby, Katya’s “safe” love choice in townie Anton, protective friends of her protective brother Ivan (Dmitry Chepovetsky) threatening to kill our American, and the always-missing Pyotr. But rather than augment Lukas’ central progression forward, all those things arrive to fill out the runtime. There are more than a few moments that show Hill being warned about a present danger facing him wherein the warning itself serves as the reason for the character sharing it to exist. But he refuses to heed any of them. He constantly goes straight into the fire and thus renders everyone else but himself and his girlfriend obsolete.

Siberia can’t help feeling overcooked as a result—an unfortunate truth considering the pacing and performances are so exacting. It’s simply frustrating to watch Hill struggle and consequently realize that the people he meets along the way don’t make things any easier or harder. They’re here to force his final decision, to give him a newfound reason to live and/or die as the “good man” he’s uncertain he’s ever been. So what appeared a stripped-down, tense thriller about a resourceful criminal showing his mettle with back against the wall actually reveals itself to be a psychological character study of a passionless automaton finding the desire to reignite himself and remember life’s intrinsic worth. It’s a commendable choice that just tipped me onto the side of enjoying the whole.


photography:
[1] (L-R) Keanu Reeves as Lucas Hill and Ana Ularu as Katya in the thriller “SIBERIA” a Saban Films release. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.
[2] Pasha D. Lychnikoff as Boris Volkov in the thriller “SIBERIA” a Saban Films release. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.
[3] Keanu Reeves as Lucas Hill in the thriller“SIBERIA” a Saban Films release. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.

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