Keanu Reeves (MAN OF TAI CHI) plays Lucas Hill, a black-market diamond merchant, who has flown to St. Petersburg to broker a deal, set up by his partner Pyotr, with a local mafioso, Boris Volkov played with charismatic menace by Pasha Lychnikoff (DEADWOOD). There's been a complication though, Pyotr has vanished and with him, the diamonds promised to the Russian mob. So, now Hill will follow his missing friend's trail to the bitterly cold rural land of Siberia where he hopes to find the diamonds, Pyotr, and avoid being taken out by an impatient and violent Volkov. His only aide in his quest is Katya played by Ana Ularu (INFERNO), a lonely woman running a diner in the rural area where he is searching for clues.
That is the set up for Matthew Ross's (FRANK & LOLA) new neo-noir thriller SIBERIA. Ross along with writer Scott B. Smith (A SIMPLE PLAN) has crafted a thoughtful, methodical film. The plot would lead you to believe that this film is a typical 'race against time' crime thriller but the film has more to say than just the twists and turns that typically make up such stories. Matthew Ross's previous film, FRANK & LOLA. centered the story on two lonely, damaged people finding love during a difficult time in their lives. Ross must find this idea compelling because it pops up in SIBERIA as well. In the film, Lucas and Katya become romantically involved, despite Lucas having a wife back in the states, played by a briefly appearing Molly Ringwald (PRETTY IN PINK), and the dangers presented by his current troubles. The relationship gives them both a reason to wake from the apathy of their current lives and struggle to survive.
Ularu brings grace and a quiet fierceness to Katya that helps you see why Lucas falls for her and why she would try so hard to help this morally questionable man who has crashed into her sleepy life. She has real chemistry with Reeves as well which is necessary for the film to work at all as it hinges on their relationship. It's a good performance and her scenes with him are what you leave the film thinking about once it's over. It is very telling that her character's romance with Reeve's Lucas outshines even the impressive gun battle featured in the film. I must talk about one of the film’s biggest missteps here though, as it directly involves her character. There is a scene near the end of the film where she offers herself sexually to Volkov to help solidify trust between the gangster and Lucas. It’s a weirdly tone-deaf scene that feels especially out of place in our current social climate. It is made all the stranger in that the rest of the film is very emotionally nuanced and thoughtful. The scene could have easily been cut without affecting the narrative and it's baffling that it made it through to the final edit of the film.
Reeves plays Lucas as a man numb to the world around him, wanting to survive only because that's what he's done up until to this point and Reeves sells that well. When he meets Katya it is as if he sees potential in what his life could be again and that pushes him into bolder actions. It's a typically understated, but strong performance from Reeves where the slightest expression change illustrates volumes about his longing for passion and his desire to escape the ordeal he's found himself in.
While this is mostly a dramatic role for Reeves, as I stated earlier, there is a shootout near the end of the film that he handles with all the determination and physical commitment you would expect from the actor who breathed life into the brutal John Wick. Keanu has over time fashioned himself into one of the top action performers in the West and it is clear that both he and Ross wanted to showcase that in the film. The action scene does feel tacked on in an effort to reward fans of Keanu’s action work who stuck with the film though.
Ross’s first film showed that he had a strong visual eye and SIBERIA confirms that as the film has many beautifully staged scenes in the wintery landscape of Saint Petersburg and Canada (doubling for Siberia). He also knows how to frame his actors in the shot to heighten the emotion of the scene. His visual choices help carry SIBERIA through its slower moments.
While I enjoyed the film, I can see how the methodical pace of SIBERIA could be frustrating for people who are just looking for the next Keanu Reeves action vehicle. If you are patient though and willing to let the film unfold before you (and overlook some questionable choices), then SIBERIA will be a rewarding experience even though it is clearly a flawed endeavor.
SIBERIA will be in theaters, VOD, and digital HD: July 13, 2018