Eastern Promises - Take Your Breath Away
25 September 2007
Eastern Promises will take your breath away, churn your stomach, and then leave you with memories of unforgettable characters and perplexing thoughts about good and evil. David Cronenberg's movie about Russian and Chechen mobsters clashing in London is more than violent - it is brutal, savage and shocking. But, remember, this is the same guy who directed the 2005 film A History of Violence.
The central mystery revolves around the diary of a 14-year-old Russian girl, discovered by an English midwife Anna (Naomi Watts) after the girl gives birth and subsequently dies. Since the diary is written in Russian, Anna takes it to a Russian restaurant to get it translated It is here she meets Semyon (Armin-Muehl Stahl), a man who speaks so eloquently you know he has to be rotten to the core. And he is. In fact, he's the head of an entire Russian mob, which is heavily into crime, drugs and prostitution.
However, for simplicity of story and proper focus, we only get to know two members of his mob: his son Kirill (Vincent Cassel) and their driver Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen). As the story develops, it centers on the unlikely relationship that develops between Anna and Nikolai...a fascinating instance of opposites attracting. Cronenberg's no-nonsense approach to violence is still in evidence here, from the bloody opening scene to one remarkably brutal fight sequence at a London bathhouse that deserves to be written down in the annals of film history. Kudos to Mortensen who does the entire fight nude, but because of the brutality there is nothing titillating.
The acting in Eastern Promises is uniformly excellent. Nikolai, as played by Viggo Mortensen, is icy, reptilian, monstrous and strangely charming all at once. It's the charm, however, that draws you to him - the indication that despite the horrific acts he's capable of, there's still a human being lurking inside. Mortensen's chilling and intense Nikolai plays well against Vincent Cassel's brutish Kirill and his confused sexuality and tortured attempts to live up to the father's demanding expectations. Armin Mueller-Stahl's gives a stunningly nuanced performance as the crime boss Semyon, a Satan dressed up as your favorite uncle at Christmastime. As Anna, unwittingly tossed into this den of serpents, Naomi Watts manages to be simultaneously vulnerable and tenacious, and brings a human intensity to the movie that helps counterbalance all the evilness that otherwise abounds.
Taught, smart and brutal, and without a single extraneous moment, this movie is both fascinating and provocative.
Last edited: 29 October 2007 10:24:56