For all his charms, Keanu Reeves doesn’t have the emotional energy necessary to make his new film work. Siberia is a forgettable thriller about a diamond merchant whose partner absconds with the loot, writes Travis Johnson.
If you need to scratch that Keanu Reeves itch in between doses of John Wick, the straight-to-home-release alleged thriller Siberia may be the methadone you need. Of course, if you’re in the mood for a movie that’s actually good, you may want to look elsewhere.
It’s a shame because Siberia has all the makings of a bleak and wintry exercise in film noir, but fails to deliver on the promises inherent in its setting and plot. Keanu is no gun-wielding assassin here – he’s Lucas Hill, a diamond merchant in St Petersburg planning to sell five million dollars worth of blue diamonds to the Russian mafiya. When his partner absconds with the merch, our morally murky hero sets off in pursuit, and finds himself in a tiny town in the titular snowy backwoods, trying to run down his errant accomplice before a genially threatening mob hardman, Boris (Pasha D. Lychnikoff) decides to cut his losses – and Keanu’s throat as well.
With his increasingly rumpled suit and continuing struggles to navigate the uncertain territory he’s found himself in, Keanu’s Lucas Hill is the latest in the long line of everyday Joes who find themselves undone by one poor and greedy decision – a lineage of film noir antiheros that encompasses Fred MacMurray’s compromised insurance investigator in Double Indemnity, Michael Fassbender’s avaricious lawyer in The Counsellor, and countless more. Siberia doubles down on the trope by having him enter into an affair with local cafe operator, Katya (Ana Ularu), despite the fact that he has a wife (Molly Ringwald, in a particularly thankless cameo). This wrinkle does give the mafiya someone else to threaten, but does little to illuminate Keanu’s character.
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And that is the main problem here. Siberia is a fairly taciturn and opaque affair, with former film journalist Matthew Ross directing a terse, circumspect script from Scott B. Smith, who gave us Sam Raimi’s similarly snowbound A Simple Plan. With minimal exposition and explanatory dialogue in play, it takes a certain set of actorly skills to bring a given character’s inner life to the surface and Keanu, for all his many charms, simply doesn’t have the emotional transparency for the job. Which is not to say he’s a bad actor, just the wrong actor for this specific gig.
With only a tenuous empathetic connection to our protagonist, we’re left to simply watch the various plot machinations play out, as the noose gets tighter, Boris’ patience gets thinner, and Lucas and Katya pursue their affair. Ross directs it all with plodding self-seriousness, never letting us think for a second that we should be actually enjoying the genre tropes and archetypes at work – you could argue, perhaps, that in doing so, Siberia is an attempt at “elevated genre” that actually lowers the impact of the work. The one time the film does come to life is in a bizarre and deliberately homoerotic standoff between Lucas and Boris that involves forced felatio by proxy, a scene so weird that it feels like it’s parachuted in from a different and much more interesting film.
Sadly, we don’t get to see that film – we’re stuck with this one. Siberia isn’t terrible, really, but it’s dull, pointless, and notably reticent to embrace the trappings of the genre it’s steeped in. It’s an eminently forgettable film, and even diehard Keanu fans will find themselves struggling to find a reason to watch it twice.