Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Siberia: Keanu Reeves Needs a Heavier Coat

It is an area famous for diamond mining and gulags. During the Soviet years, Siberia was a place of toil and misery, even if you were not a political prisoner. Development has not boomed since the technical fall of Communism, but the diamonds are still there. That is always where an ambiguously ethical American diamond dealer must go to find his missing partner and twelve fabulously expensive blue diamonds in Matthew Ross’s Siberia (trailer here), which releases today on DVD.

Lucas Hill plays it pretty fast and loose, but he has always managed to keep on the right side of the law. Unfortunately, when his partner Pyotr disappears along with the twelve stones Hill had promised to oligarch-gangster Boris Volkov, it puts him in a tricky spot. Hill’s only lead is Pyotr’s brother, who works in the Mir Mine, but he has also been out of contact for weeks.

However, all is not lost. While in Mirny, Hill meets Katya, an alluring tavern-keeper, who can immediately tell he is engaged in funny business, but doesn’t care. In fact, Hill might just be falling in love, even though he has a wife back home (but no passion). The sex might be great, but Hill will be in big trouble without those stones.

As a director-screenwriter tandem, Ross and Scott B. Smith do not inspire rapt anticipation, but there are worse pedigrees. Ross’s Frank & Lola is hardly a perfect film, but it has a distinctive vibe. Likewise, Smith’s original novel and screenplay adaptation of A Simple Plan had their gritty merit. However, their collaboration on Siberia is a crushing disappointment. The first act is deadly dull, the second act is uncomfortably mean-spirited, and the third act falls flat as a pancake. Perhaps most bafflingly, a film called Siberia has precious little to say about Russia’s Communist past or its Putinist present, aside from a few FSB agents, who show up late in the game to make everything worse.

This will no doubt be shocking to read, but Keanu Reeves is a rather stiff, inexpressive presence as Hill. To be fair, Ana Ularu (Romanian, but close enough) is spirited and seductive as Katya, but the rest of the Russians are just stock hicks or cliched gangsters, with no meaningful differentiation. It is also a crying shame to see the great German actress Veronica Ferres grossly underemployed as Raisa, the St. Petersburg hotel concierge.

Ularu deserves to get some attention for her work in Siberia, but everything else about the film is just a waste. It knows the FSB is a scary, lawless outfit, but that is all that it gets right. Not recommended, Siberia releases today on DVD.