Reviewed by: Jane Fae

"About the only element this film shares with John Wick is Reeves' determination to play his part with near zero emotional inflection."

Siberia is a black hole of a film. That is, as any Physics geek will tell you: black holes possess a gravitational event horizon beyond which, no matter how fast you travel, you can never escape the pull of gravity. You will never break through into clear blue space beyond.

When it comes to films, the event horizon is measured not in gravity but in dullness. They start dull: do not grab you; do not in the least engage you in caring about what happens to the protagonists. Yet on occasion, if you persist – as those of us tasked with watching films critically must – you will arrive somewhere just a little less dull.

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So it is with Siberia. Lucas Hill (Keanu Reeves) is an American diamond trader acting as intermediary between dodgy diamond supplier Pyotr and even dodgier oligarch Boris Volkov (Pasha D Lychnikoff). One assumes that the wages of go-betweening must be pretty good, as from the off, pretty much everyone Lucas encounters is cold, grey and menacing.

Apart from Katya (Ana Ularu), owner of a small bar in a small mining town somewhere in Siberia,whither Lucas hies himself in search of the elusive Pyotr, who appears to have stitched him up, kipper style. You'd think Lucas has enough problems, what with menacing mobsters on his case and threatening who knows what. But no. Following this chance encounter, and an act of pointless gallantry on Lucas' part, he and Katya are soon in bed together, engaged in advanced horizontal gymnastics.

Local toughs, including Katya's brother and best friend, disapprove and threaten Lucas. The gymnastics continue. So they all go on a bear hunt, before some nonsense with dead drops and the intervention of the FSB (Russia's Secret Service), who also threaten Lucas: the latter presumably justifying the claim in the film blurb that this is 'John Wick meets John Le Carre'.

Except it really is not.

It is at this point that any sensible go-between would decide to cut his losses and go home. We have already established that Lucas is not some Wick-style killer, after he is knocked cold by a couple of the local drunks in his first night in Siberia. And despite further claims that he is a “gun-toting diamond dealer”, this too is a bit of an exaggeration. For most of the film the only toting he does is to carry a “girly gun” and one bullet while out hunting bear.

Though he does shoot a dog which, elsewhere, has been enough provocation for an entire movie!

That is one major problem with this film. Reeves has got a little stuck, what with the halo effect of two John Wick films in which he plays a cold, calculating, emotionless killer. Yes, he's made other films in the last few years - but what, apart from the Wick franchise, is memorable?

That is why the blurb appeals so shamelessly – so inappropriately – to that franchise, insinuating that Siberia is yet another all-action film, and then failing 100% to deliver. About the only element this film shares with John Wick is Reeves' determination to play his part with near zero emotional inflection. That may work when playing an assassin – but quite misses the point when a major focus for the film is your flowering relationship with a footloose and enigmatic bar person.

This – the relationship – provides some distraction to the otherwise barely credible diamond-dealing hokum. There is some interesting commentary on traditional roles: Lucas' first encounter with Katya includes an attempt at white knighting on his part that she dismisses instantly. This is the post-feminist world and Lucas needs to get used to the idea that women don't need saviours, but they do need emotional intelligence which - ooops! - he lacks.

The sexual encounters are ...interesting. There is a sense that someone on the other side of the camera lens – director Matthew Ross, perhaps - was at least trying to present something that catered to women's tastes as well as men's. Less voyeurism, more focus on what makes Katya tick.

But overall, the question you can't help asking is: why? When you have the Russian mafia and everyone else breathing down your neck and you aren't John Wick, why would you add to your problems by starting up such an impossible and selfish relationship?

So Siberia sucks: Siberia is a black hole with one saving grace, which is that if you hang on till the end, the various plot strands eventually come together in an ending that is slightly more interesting, exciting than what went before.

But too late. If you didn't have to watch this film, you likely turned off, or over, or left the cinema long before.

Reviewed on: 15 Nov 2018
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When an American diamond trader's Russian partner goes missing, he journeys to Siberia in search of him but instead begins a love affair.
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Director: Matthew Ross

Writer: Scott B Smith, Stephen Hamel

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Boris Gulyarin, Ashley St George, Elliot Lazar, Veronica Ferres, Pasha D Lychnikoff, Molly Ringwald

Year: 2018

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: US


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