In 2016, Matthew Ross made his mark as a director with Frank & Lola, a totally solid romantic drama that was mainly noteworthy for featuring yet another stellar Michael Shannon performance in a year where the man was exploding in terms of visibility and recognition. Having mostly worked on shorts prior to this, Ross seemed primed to develop a career in compelling VOD-level feature dramas, demonstrating an ability to coax interesting performances from his performers and lending a level of professional shine to a low-budget production. This made Siberia seem like a promising next step for Ross with Keanu Reeves acting as his starring muse, but whether it's because he didn't write Siberia himself or because Frank & Lola was lightning in a bottle, that promise feels squandered.
Lucas Hill (Reeves) is an American diamond trader who travels to Siberia in search of his missing business partner, Pyotr. While waiting for his friend to resurface, Lucas starts to realize that the deal he was going to broker, selling some rare blue diamonds, has the potential to fall apart because the goods are of questionable origin and authenticity. Now, caught between the Russian mob and government investigators, Lucas needs to find a way to unentangle himself from the criminal affairs that ensnare him.
If this premise sounds like a good excuse for some John Wick-esque action shenanigans – what with Reeves, Russian mobsters, and very well-cut suits – you'd be right, except Siberia never capitalizes on that potential, leaving Reeves's physicality to the wayside in what feels like the biggest waste of great casting. Instead, Siberia is actually a romance hiding in the guise of a mystery thriller, as Lucas quickly starts an affair with Katya (Ana Ularu), the proprietor of a local bar. This takes up the entire first hour of the film, pushing the diamond business into the background in favor of a stiff, meandering romance that feels entirely devoid of natural chemistry. It teeters perilously close to plotlessness, and the dull, colorless cinematography threatens to bore one to the point of hardly caring enough to follow a plot buried in tedious exposition.
This would perhaps be less annoying if the affair had any plot significance beside giving Lucas an immediate need to protect someone other than himself, but Katya is such a thin sketch of a character that it's hard to care about her in the least. She's hardly an autonomous being, defined entirely by a clichéd Russian bitterness and her existence as a sexual being. She is there to give Lucas something to lust after and apparently love, though that supposed love never quite makes it to the screen. It's also rather disconcerting that she shows up at one point for the sole purpose of being used as a sexual bargaining chip with a dangerous mobster, willingly offering herself to be raped so that Lucas can escape the situation unscathed. It's a completely unnecessary scene that doesn't so much evoke sympathy for the character as it does disgust with the filmmakers for conceiving and executing the scenario in the first place.
Siberia is as flat and featureless as its setting, a wasteland of potential and poor decisions that fails less for the plateaus it aims for than for the heights it doesn't. There's nothing engaging about these characters, nothing to make this scenario anything more than a procedural slog. And as perverse as the film's sexual politics are, there isn't enough humanity on display to even get too worked up about the depravity. Matthew Ross may have made a splash two years ago, but his follow-up is about as precipitous a drop as one could conceive.