Eastern Promises

  • 2007-12-12
  • by Tim Ochser

Russians are portrayed as vodka-drinking stereotypes.

Director: David Cronenberg

"Eastern Promises" is a brutal, compelling and, at times, rather silly movie. The story follows a Russian mafia family living in London and covers just about every cliche there is about Russians, not least of which are the gratingly exaggerated Slavic accents of the mainly non-Russian cast.
But despite the dodgy accents and endless shots of vodka-drinking, "Eastern Promises" is also a powerful film which occasionally has an epic quality to it thanks to some excellent individual performances.
The story starts when a pregnant young girl dies during childbirth in a London hospital. A midwife named Anna (Naomi Watts) finds a diary among the dead girl's belongings and uses it to try and track down her family so the newborn child doesn't get put into care.

The diary leads Anna to a Russian restaurant which is owned by the head of a Russian mafia family. Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), wants the diary back as it contains some seriously incriminating evidence against himself and his sleazy son, Kirill (Vincent Cassel). Anna doesn't realize the danger she and her family are getting into as she is drawn deeper and deeper into the brutal world of the Russians.
Nikolai (Viggo Morten-sen) is a chauffeur to the mafia family who is also on the verge of being made a mafia member himself. Strong, smart and discrete, Nikolai is almost the perfect criminal thug, in contrast with the pathetic Kirill. But Nikolai develops an attraction to Anna which could compromise his ambitions to penetrate the mafia.

Viggo Mortensen is yet again outstanding in his role. He is one of the few actors around at the moment with real presence. His inscrutable face manages to hint at a whole world of emotional complexities without so much as moving a muscle. As with Cronenberg's last movie, "A History of Violence," Mortensen single-handedly gives "Eastern Promises" a depth it might otherwise lack.
"Eastern Promises" is a compelling and often disturbing movie, even if the Russian mafia element is far from convincing. It contains some scenes of truly shocking violence, including a knife fight in a public bathhouse in which you almost feel every slash and stab.

Cronenberg also makes good use of London as an aesthetic prop, as in his previous film "Spider," and captures something of the city's brooding sense of menace. There are no comforting shots of Big Ben or the London Eye in this disturbing snapshot of London's criminal underworld.  

Now showing in Latvia. Opens in Estonia and Lithuania Jan. 4.

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