A story about this — 5 years ago
Naked fight scene alone equals greatness.
471 out of 500 people (94%) think this is worth consuming…
Like A History of Violence, Eastern Promises finds David Cronenberg exploring the morality and amorality of violence, and it also has him collaborating with Viggo Mortensen. As far as I’m concerned, with the high caliber of performances that Mortensen delivers in those two films, Cronenberg should cast him in some role in every movie he makes from now on. Maybe that’s a little unrealistic, but Mortensen is stellar whenever he’s on-screen.
The movie’s basic plot is simple: a young Russian prostitute dies giving birth to a baby, and the midwife (Naomi Watts) is trying to find the baby’s family. In the course of her investigation she crosses paths with a top Russian mobster (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who, after reading the dead girl’s diary, discovers that he and his son (Vincent Cassiel) are implicated in her fate. He sends his son’s friend and chauffeur, Nikolai (Mortensen) to take care of things.
Cronenberg shoots things on a very basic and human level, as if “anti-stylistically” could be a style. This makes it a little hard to identify with the characters’ situations, although identifying with them isn’t necessarily what you should be doing. But if you think the movie’s going to leave you cold, the performances draw you into it even when Cronenberg’s shots are holding you back. Mueller-Stahl is cold and charismatic as the head of the family, and Cassiel plays his immature, hedonistic son who doesn’t realize he’s in over his head. And I’ve gushed about Mortensen a lot already, but maybe once more: his gangster is sometimes vicious, sometimes almost friendly, and he plays things close to the chest so you never know which is the real him, or what he could change into in the blink of an eye. Naomi Watts is overshadowed by these three leading men, but does a good job of playing off them and bringing a lot of humanity to the movie.
Cronenberg’s style is particularly effective when it comes to the violence. The big violent scene is even more visceral than in A History of Violence, both due to the nature of the scene and the way it’s shot. There are a couple twists and turns in the movie, but they’re not really the point: even if you figure things out, it’s still gripping. If you can handle Cronenberg’s style of violence, then Eastern Promises is easily worth a watch, probably two or three.
Warning: Some spoilers…
After enjoying “A History of Violence” enough to buy it, and hearing such acclaim for “Eastern Promises,” I approached this film with high expectations and came away somewhat disappointed. Like “A History of Violence,” David Cronenberg gives us a tense thriller involving ordinary people mixed up with the mafia. In “Eastern Promises” Naomi Watts plays a midwife on a mission to find the family of a baby she delivered from a dying 14-year-old prostitute. Armed with a diary written in Russian, she accidentally hands herself over to the very people who were responsible for the young girl’s enslavement, pregnancy and death. The Russian mafia family’s chauffeur is a tattooed and heavily-accented Viggo Mortensen who is trying to advance his career, yet feels an attraction to Watts’ character.
Cronenberg’s characteristic over-the-top and in-your-face violence is present from the very beginning and I enjoyed the slow, thoughtful pace of the film. The acting was superb, and I especially liked Vincent Cassel as the drunken son of the mafia boss. However, the movie fell flat for me most of the time – I just never felt all that concerned for the characters or their predicament. The film didn’t help any by going on for most of its duration as if it is a “tough look at violence and broken dreams” and then wrapped up the last 30 minutes so that everyone pretty much gets a happy ending, despite some plausibility issues (the hospital just lets Watts’ character keep the baby? Is that standard protocol?). Not a bad watch, but not one of my favorites of the year.