Director: Matthew Ross
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Molly Ringwald, Ana Ularu, Veronica Ferres
RunTime: 1 hr 45 mins
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 19 July 2018
Synopsis: From the producers of PASSENGERS and JOHN WICK comes a tale of obsession and intrigue: SIBERIA follows Lucas (Reeves), an American diamond merchant, who travels to St. Petersburg to sell rare blue diamonds of questionable origin. As the deal immediately begins to collapse, Lucas travels to Siberia in search of his missing partner and their diamonds, where he quickly falls into a relationship with Katya (Ularu), the owner of a small Siberian café. As Lucas and Katya’s passion builds, so does the treacherous world of the diamond trade from which he is unable to extricate himself. Both collide as Lucas desperately searches for an escape route in a world with no exit.
There’s no other way to say this – ‘Siberia’ left us out in the cold. Even after sitting through 97 minutes of it, we’re not quite sure what the filmmakers intended with this cross between a romantic drama and an international thriller.
It starts off as the latter, setting up Keanu Reeves as an American diamond merchant named Lucas who arrives in St. Petersburg to make a US$50 million sale of ultra-rare blue diamonds to the ruthless Russian mobster Boris (Pasha D. Lynchnikoff), only to find that his partner Pyotr has disappeared with the merchandise. So after appeasing the unhappy customer, Lucas flies out to Mirny, a mining town in Siberia where Pyotr’s brother lives and where he figures his partner might have gone.
While waiting for news of Pyotr, Lucas wanders into a local café on his first evening there and has a meet-cute with its owner Katya (Romanian actress Ana Ularu). Though Katya can very well hold her own, Lucas steps in to intervene when one of the local men gets on a chair to flash himself at her while inebriated. Unfortunately, though that certainly leaves an impression on Katya, it doesn’t go all too well for him as soon as he steps out of the café. Finding him lying unconscious in the snow, Katya brings him back to her house, thus setting the stage for their ill-fated love affair.
Besides the fact that Lucas is already married (he has two brief FaceTime scenes with his wife, played by Molly Ringwald), the other men in town – including Katya’s older brother – disapprove of Lucas dating Katya, letting their disdain be known to him on a bear hunting trip they invite them on. All the same, Katya refuses to let her choices be dictated by them, and hooks up with Lucas despite knowing that he probably won’t be sticking around for her. Reeves and Ularu share about three to four sex scenes together, though those hoping to indulge vicariously in their lovemaking should probably just look elsewhere.
But that’s not even why their romance is doomed – when Katya follows Lucas back to St. Petersburg, she gets inadvertently mixed up with his wrong company, resulting in an act of coercive humiliation that explains the movie’s rating. She also becomes the FSB’s manipulation tool as they force Lucas to double-cross Boris, an act which also precipitates the film’s grim finale. Those expecting ‘Siberia’ to be in the vein of EuropaCorp’s sleek but straightforward action thrillers will most certainly be disappointed; besides a shootout in the wintry forests of Siberia, there is hardly any action to speak of, and the betrayals and conspiracies don’t add up to anything much intriguing too.
At best, we can fathom that director Matthew Ross and screenwriter Scott B. Smith (from a story credited to Smith and Stephen Hamel) intended for the sort of bleak romanticism akin to George Clooney’s muted ‘The American’. Certainly, this isn’t the sort of emotionally charged stuff where Lucas’ passion for Katya erupts into some single-minded vengeance after she is threatened and used against him. Rather than have Reeves go into ‘John Wick’ mode for Katya, the film subdues him to the extent that he seems almost doubtful how much he is willing to go to in order to protect and/or avenge Katya.
While it seems too easy to blame Reeves for an ambiguous lead performance, we think the fault lies more with both the scripting and directing, which can hardly be bothered to find some central motivation for Lucas. On one hand, he clearly has had some experience in shooting (which he demonstrates on the bear-hunting trip) and spy-craft (hence the numerous cheap phones and SIM cards); yet, on the other, he seems utterly inept at managing the situations he finds himself in. In contrast, Ularu makes a memorable impression as Katya, a woman who holds her own in the male-dominated community she lives in and accepts what she knows she needs to do given what she’s gotten herself into.
Yet Ularu alone is not enough to warm ‘Siberia’, not when her romance with Reeves hardly ignites and the whole diamond dealing plot proves to be just as tedious. It’s hard to think that Smith scripted the far superior dark thriller ‘A Simple Plan’ two decades ago from his own novel, and Ross directed the flawed but far more engaging ‘Frank and Lola’ two years back. Both appear too content with this half-baked romance thriller, which unfolds at its own languid pace and never builds to anything compelling. Much as we love Reeves, we hate to see him in such mediocre fare, although the fact that he also produced ‘Siberia’ makes him partially culpable.
(As frigid as the weather in the titular location, ‘Siberia’ is a slow-burn romance thriller that never builds itself into anything emotionally or narratively compelling)
Review by Gabriel Chong