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  Eastern Promises

Starring: Naomi Watts, Viggo Mortensen, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Vincent C

Directed by: David Cronenberg

Produced by: Paul Webster, Robert Lantos

Written by: Steve Knight

Distributor: Focus Features


     A young, female foreigner (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse) walks into a London pharmacy, noticeably in pain and crying out for help. Seconds later, she falls to the floor, blood flowing from her body to her feet. The girl is rushed to the hospital, where she dies in the process of giving birth to a premature baby girl. No one comes looking for the girl (or her newborn); she is left unidentified with only a diary written in Russian to clue the hospital into whom she might be.


     Anna (Naomi Watts), the midwife who delivered the girl’s baby, sees the moral need to find the baby’s family. Skimming through the pages of the diary of the deceased, whose name she discovers was Tatiana, Anna finds a business card for a Trans-Siberian restaurant. Anna pays a visit to the manager of the restaurant, Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who claims he doesn’t know anything of Tatiana but offers to translate the diary’s Russian text to help out. What Anna doesn’t know is that Semyon is actually the head of a Russian mob that used Tatiana for sex, and plans to translate the diary inaccurately in order to cover up the truth. Also prominent in the picture is the mob’s driver, Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), who Anna views as strangely alluring.


     Eastern Promises contains a fairly conventional mob-story and was done in a style rather typical of director David Cronenberg, but the fusion of these two familiar elements results in a surprisingly original film. The tonal darkness and thematic exploration of violence accomplished by Cronenberg’s directorial approach provide the morality-play that Semyon’s mob engages in a much-needed sense of depth. As was the case with Francis Ford Coppola’s infamous The Godfather, Eastern Promises never fails to recognize the confused motivations and charismatic presences of its morally repugnant thugs of characters.


     The effectiveness of Cronenberg’s trademark style doesn’t only enhance Eastern Promises’ ability to understand its characters on a psychological level, but also allows them to act far more realistically in the film than they would have at the hand of another director. Cronenberg fearlessly invites brutal amounts of realistic violence into his frames: fingers are cut off and throats are slit. Most shocking of all sequences in the film is a sauna-staged knife-fight between Nikolai and men from a rival mob.


     Many have criticized several of the casting-decisions for the film, but I am willing to ardently defend every performance in it. The most controversial selection is Naomi Watts as Anna; many think the actress is too “pretty” for the role. I would argue that Watts’ considerable cosmopolitan qualities allow her to evoke the audience’s sympathies easily, yielding her a natural and strong protagonist. These personality characteristics make her exchanges with Mortensen, utterly brilliant here, all the more effective, especially after a startling plot-twist regarding his character is revealed.


     An effective character-study and a wholly entertaining mob-movie, Eastern Promises will satisfy all viewers who aren’t put off by its high level of gruesomeness. Successfully coupling Cronenberg’s brooding style with uniformly excellent performances from the cast, it stands as one of the fall season’s finest offerings thus far.


-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 9.24.2007

Screened on: 9.21.2007 at the Edwards San Marcos 18 in San Marcos, CA.


Eastern Promises is rated R and runs 100 minutes.

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