Saturday, March 22, 2008

Eastern Promises (2007)

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The formula of director David Cronenberg (The Fly), leading man Viggo Mortensen, and serviceable leading lady led to the highly disappointing, utterly awful A History of Violence; but somehow, the same formula results in the highly surprisingly, utterly brutal Eastern Promises. Italian and Irish mob films have become overplayed and run-of-the-mill, but Cronenberg's take on the Russian mob operating in London is an engaging thriller with moral undertones and strong performances. Mortensen stars as Nikolai, a callous, focused grunt on the rise, ready to take on any task handed down to him by his ruthless boss Semyon, played excellently by Armin Mueller-Stahl. Nikolai encounters Anna, played by Naomi Watts, a midwife who discovered a diary with a young girl who died giving birth to a baby. After asking her Russian uncle to translate the diary, Anna finds that the young girl and the father of her child had strange, dark ties to the mob. In her efforts to seek justice for the young mother's death and safety for the young baby, Anna must deal with the pressure from her own family to stay out of trouble and the interesting characters in Senyon's crime family. Cronenberg weaves the multiple stories involving Anna and Senyon's family masterfully with both revolving around Nikolai. This is likely Mortensen's best performance, menacingly strong, but subtle and human. The supporting cast is also well above average with noteworthy performances by Watts, Mueller-Stahl, and Vincent Cassell as Kirill, Semyon's flamboyant, erratic son. The original screenplay makes this more than just another gangster-flick, and the depth of the story will engage a broad audience. Eastern Promises is also one of the darkest movies of 2007 with a handful of scenes involving excessive violence that are difficult to watch. Although the scenes may be he necessary to convey the nature of the characters and events, some drag on and come across as unrealistic. The strong accents make the English difficult to understand, and even the most attentive viewer won't feel comfortable with the plot until nearly halfway in. At only 96 minutes, however, the movie never drags and comes and goes before you know it, so that difficult to watch and difficult to understand parts are never excessive. The fine editing, direction, and acting produce a compelling thriller that is surprisingly entertaining, but may be just dark enough to only merit one viewing.

Good for: crime-film fans, fans of dark movies, Viggo fans

Bad for: people bothered by violent films

The Gallery
The Economist: * * * *
The Film Maker: * * * *

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