Bespectacled—his stringy blond hair growing progressively thinner and less plentiful like a criminally neglected (Ch-ch-ch) Chia Pet—47-year-old Woody Harrelson is the locomotive-loving, God-fearing Roy. Lucky for him, he’s traveling by iron horse across a picturesque, snow-covered Russian Siberian landscape with his wife. They’re heading to Moscow following a church missionary trip in China. Roy’s a sincere do-gooder, the kind of guy that owns that most wholesome of vanishing American small business: a helpful hardware store. Fact is, he’s a boring gent that you wouldn’t expect to find knee deep in international intrigue. When ill-boding events inevitably chug full-speed ahead, it’s not that it’s terribly contrary rooting for a grown male protagonist with a model train set in his basement, as it is flatly aseptic.
Leaning on the cinematic cornerstone that has ordinary schmucks caught in extraordinary circumstances, director/co-writer Brad Anderson’s story-rub rests in the mysterious shroud that is Mrs. Roy’s—Jessie (Emily Mortimer)—checkered past. The childless couple met by accident when she hit him head on with her car. She was drunk. Still restless, she’s trying to abstain from alcohol through the foggy plumes of tobacco smoke emanating from her lungs. The (young) Demi Moore look-alike is struggling to turn the page on her party-girl past. She loves Roy, but we’re not quite sure if she’s running to something or away from it?
Reassured by the company of English-speaking journeyers, Roy and Jessie make acquaintances with fellow diesel cabin-mates Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and his girlfriend Abby (Kate Mara). In a meteorologically and culturally cold country, time shared with like-minded travel companions seems too good to be true. It is. Spreading the international language of business, the free-wheeling pair claims to be between gigs teaching English in Japan.
Harmless sightseeing is disrupted when, during a layover, Roy, after failing to
re-board, gets unwittingly left behind by his wife and newfound buddies. Translation: Roy’s uninteresting and birdbrained. A pensive Jessie waits in the next town’s depot for him to be located. Carlos, sensing opportunity to spend some quality alone time with Jessie, sends Abby on an errand so as to conveniently suggest Jessie and he kill time waiting for Roy to catch up by visiting a local historic church.