Siberia may be the weakest entry in Keanu Reeves’ resurgence as a kind of deadpan action hero—but that just makes it a near miss.
A stylish crime drama that only occasionally catches fire, Siberia may be the weakest entry in Keanu Reeves’ resurgence as a kind of deadpan action hero—but that just makes it a near miss. Despite a flat final act, this journeyman genre picture is more visually level-headed than your standard issue hand-held camera shootout. Perhaps it’s that steady eye that leads to a surprising asset: This is a rare thriller whose relationships are better developed than its criminal activity.
Lucas (Reeves) is a diamond smuggler who travels to St. Petersburg for a deal that quickly turns bad. When his partner fails to show up with the expensive contraband, Hill looks for him in Siberia, where he runs into unfriendly locals and the tough but friendlier Katya (Ana Ularu), who owns a rural café. After some deliberation, she falls into bed with the foreigner.
In a departure from the typical jet-setting thriller, the lovers are conflicted about the affair; flashbacks show us that Lucas dotes on his wife (Molly Ringwald), but that she seems distant. Katya, for her part, is uncomfortable with her role as the other woman, and in an unusually fraught sex scene, bitterly tells Lucas to call her by his wife’s name.
Precious gems become secondary to the film and to its characters as the plot shifts from diamonds to domestic drama. Pasha Lychnikoff makes for a colorful Russian villain (named Boris, natch), but the violent milieu gradually takes second stage in a frigid climate where bodies are trying in vain to get out of the cold. It almost seems as if the movie would be better off had it dispensed with the diamond plot all together and concentrated on the nuances of Russian honor that play out with Katya and her family—and, in a more sinister way, with Boris.
Reeves is spot on as what amounts to a chess piece in a game of Le Samourai. Matthew Ross (Frank & Lola), as so many thriller directors before him, taps the well of Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 template, from the affectless star to the alienation of empty hotel rooms to the affair that is sure to be the end of this cold-hearted criminal. Reeves is no Alain Delon, but he has now long outgrown his own coy youth for a reliable gravitas, and he really doesn’t even have to say much to sell that steely persona. With style but no flash, cinematographer Eric Koretz props up the cool drama, painting the dreary interiors of the café and the Siberian tundra (played adequately by Winnipeg) as weather-beaten backdrops for actors whose warm skin tones pop out of their barren environment.
Casting Ringwald as Lucas’ wife resonates with a sense of distant glory, as she and Reeves both cut their teeth on movies about youthful exploits. Where they once played giddy or lost adolescents, here they are all part of a lost adult world. With its sex scenes given more dramatic weight, the movie suggests a broken underworld in which thieves fumble in vain for some kind of human connection.
Yet the movie doesn’t quite come together, as threads unravel and its anti-hero makes his way to an unsatisfying conclusion. Unlike the John Wick movies, Reeves’ character doesn’t have a faithful dog, but even if Siberia falls well short of that franchise’s big-budget operatic action ideal, it has something of the grizzled charm of the underdog.