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First of all it is amazing the amount of research that went into this
movie. When Mortissen's characters says that his father worked for the
government, in Russian he actually says: "Hunched his back for the
uncle"! Even the poster with little and index finger straighter then
the rest, it all breathers authenticity.
I didn't go in expecting non-Russian actors to suddenly have no accent, but I did have hesitations about the pronunciation, that usually tends to be horrible. Not so here, despite the accent (that was slight), the intonation, the way the characters cary themselves especially Mortinssen's are very Russian. (Even his less then perfect English sounds Russia when he misses articles: "Not good place for girl to grow up.") Overall the director shows a bit of what a real SinCity looks like. Violence is like a snap of a whip, sudden and loud. The movie is very stylish, but without trying to be so. It's just how these people like to live their lifes. A lot has been said about acting and it is true Mortinssen really delivers. All the auther actors are great too though, there is no weak link in this movie.
Anyway the bottom line: The most authentic movie about Russian mobsters that the west has produced so far. Furthermore I find the only aspect in which it looses to the Godfather is scope. Although the movie is complete I can not help, but to want for more. The best film I've seen this year.
"Eastern Promises" will take your breath away, churn your stomach, and
then leave you with memories of unforgettable characters as well as
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, shocking. But do not expect just an action film,
exploiting blood and gore. After you shake off its terrific immediate
impact (there is no way to think while watching it), you realize that
"Eastern Promises" is also a kind of morality tale, complex and
Only after you hold your breath, cover your eyes, and get through the movie do you realize how "Eastern Promises" manages to contradict Friedrich Nietzsche effectively. The German philosopher's "Beyond Good and Evil" denied the possibility of a universal morality. Cronenberg's film says that ethics - without expectation of rewards, in this life or a possible other one - can prevail even in the depths of great evil. The "History of Violence" director continues his subtle, subtext theme of upholding Anne Frank's belief that "in spite of everything people are really good at heart," and he does so without a smidgen of sentimentality.
There is no goodness in evidence as Viggo Mortensen's scary Russian mobster does every bidding of Armin Mueller-Stahl's chilling godfather figure, ruling ruthlessly over a family, which includes his son, a monster out of control, played brilliantly by Vincent Cassel (son of Jean-Pierre Cassel).
During a pre-release press tour, Cronenberg spoke of his wish to present "provocative, juicy stories... with complexity... showing that all monsters are sentimental and have some kind of relationship to a moral compass." That is all true, but what makes "Eastern Promises" so appealing is that there is no pop psychology (or worse, pop philosophy) in or about it. The film hits you over the head with its magnificently written story (Steven Knight, of "Dirty Pretty Things"), not with a message.
The title, on one level, refers to promises made to young women in Russia, luring them to the West, where the Mob enslaves them as prostitutes. It is one of these drugged and brutalized women whose death opens the film, and brings an English nurse (Naomi Watts) into the story.
As a multitude of promises, threats and tragedies unfolds, you get the maximum out of "Eastern Promises" with minimum advance knowledge of its story. Initially, that is. When you return to see it again, it won't matter that you'll know how it ends, you will want to re-experience what is certain to become a classic film. ("Eastern Promises" was shown at the Toronto Festival last week, opened in San Francisco today, goes nationwide on Sept. 21.)
Eastern Promises is a further proof David Cronenberg is one of the last
classic film-makers left. At the same time, he is a modernist. The
combination, in the dark London he created, is a moral tale which makes
you think of Dostoievsky. It's a story of crime and redemption with an
unusual (hidden) tenderness. At the same time, it is a very serious
trip into the rites of a secret society as we can see more and more in
our big cities. A criminal secret society.
Cronenberg (and his friend Peter Suschistky) have created another universe that seems another version of ours. As usual it is a mental one, but so close to what we call "reality" that it makes you uncomfortable and eventually horrified. The cast is fantastic and the script is brilliant.
It is not often that audiences today are treated to a film that has as
many things going for it as Eastern Promises does. Whether it's because
of interference from studios determined to make their products as
marketable as possible, filmmakers who favor style over substance, or
just a plain old shortage of originality, nowadays it is a treat when a
film fan can leave the theater and feel affected by the artistry that
he/she has just experienced.
On the surface, Eastern Promises is a straightforward crime story about people who don't appear to be terribly complex. But somehow, the combination of the narrative, the mood, and the humanness of the characters create an alchemy that transcends this film from something that could have been common into something quite unique and memorable. Noirish settings, dedicated medical professionals, and mobsters and their loyal henchmen are all commonplace enough in movies as to risk being clichés. Yet everything in this film about a London midwife who stumbles into contact with the Russian mob as she seeks clues to the identity of a teen who died in childbirth mesh together wonderfully and fully engage the viewer.
While it all starts with the script, credit must be given to the director, David Cronenberg for bringing it to life, and for the cast, who created living, breathing characters who the viewer cares about- whether they are likable or not, good or evil, or not quite so easy to read. They seem real.
At the core of the film is "Nikolai," the loyal chauffeur to the kingpin's volatile son. "Nikolai" is both enigmatic and mesmerizing. We know he is a man with a past and with secrets, but we really don't know what his goals and motives are. We don't know who he is, yet somehow, just as the half-Russian midwife, "Anna", we are drawn to him and trust that there is goodness in him, even as were are not quite sure we should. It is a skillful, yet understated performance that quietly blows you away.
Although Eastern Promises has some of the director's signature moments of eye-popping violence, they do not dominate this film and it is the quiet moments- where the characters are silently contemplating aspects of their own existence that give the film its power. We can see the introspection and pain on their faces, but the script leaves so much unsaid, and so much about the two main characters (played by Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts) we come to care about so much remain a beautiful, haunting mystery.
I was bowled over by Viggo Mortensen's performance. I saw the film about a week ago and his eyes, his look, his smirk has been with me every day since. He is rapidly becoming my favorite actor because he makes something new, long lasting, thought provoking and totally true, out of the characters he plays, the way he plays them and I feel also, why he plays them. Here he is a Russian mobster's driver, or is he? The important thing is that you won't be able to take your eyes of him. Here he has David Cronemberg at his side / or sides, once again. Cronemberg seems to know and understand Mortensen's power. And Mortensen seems to trust him completely. Eastern Promises is a really good film with and extraordinary Viggo Mortensen at its very core. Not to be missed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In a wet and dreary pre-Christmas London, an anonymous, distressed,
14-year old Russian girl staggers into Trafalgar hospital, on the verge
of giving birth, hemorrhaging badly and with obvious heroine tracks on
her arms. Pediatric nurse Anna (Naomi Watts) tries in vain to save both
mother and baby, but in the end, all that remains is the newborn, and a
diary written in Russian in the girl's purse, that contains a business
card for a Russian restaurant. Haunted by her own previous miscarriage,
and determined that the baby girl not be sent to an orphanage, Anna
attempts to have the diary translated in order to identify the
anonymous girl's family. In so doing, she becomes embroiled in the
dark, seething world of crime, drugs, and prostitution of the Russian
Mob. It is an enclosed, hot house society, where family loyalty and
responsibility and adherence to the "vory v zakone" code of thieves are
paramount, and shady characters like the "restauranteur" Semyon (Armin
Mueller-Stahl), his son Kirill (Vincent Cassel) and his "driver"
Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) exist on the periphery of the law.
As a long-time fan of Cronenberg's work, it is interesting for me to see his recent films grab the public attention in such a mainstream way. While it is true that both "A History of Violence" and "Eastern Promises" feature less obviously fantastic elements than, say, "The Fly" or "Scanners", Cronenberg's uniquely clinical and undramatic visual and storytelling style remain intact throughout all of his films. Nothing in a David Cronenberg film appears on- screen without a reason. He's sort of the film-making equivalent of Ernest Hemingway: a deceptively simple, unflinching eye; a calm surface that somehow manages to get under your skin and hints at labyrinthine depths beneath. Cronenberg's work always makes you uncomfortable, but here in "Eastern Promises", it is done very subtly, almost subliminally, so you find yourself thinking about it afterward without realizing it.
The acting in Eastern Promises is uniformly excellent. Viggo Mortensen's Nikolai, in particular, displays a still, coiled menace that is chilling and intense, which plays well against Vincent Cassel's portrayal of the feral Kirill, whose confused and tortured attempts to live up to his father's criminal expectations set the plot in motion, and Armin Mueller-Stahl's stunningly nuanced performance as the crime boss Semyon: 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 in a role for which she will doubtless receive too little credit.
Cronenberg's no-nonsense approach to violence is still in evidence here, from the shockingly bloody opening scene, to one remarkably brutal fight sequence that deserves to be written down in the annals of film history, and is so astonishing that it isn't until afterward that you register the fact that Viggo Mortensen did the whole thing completely nude. But, in the end, it is the sinuous undercurrent of hope, the trickle of humanity that manages to somehow exist amongst these desperate characters, that sticks with me in this film. The writing hints at things rather than stating them, the muted "film noir" visual style enhances this, and even the "big plot twist" near the end of the story (that I wouldn't dream of spoiling for you) is handled with the most minimalist of gestures. I swear, sometime soon David Cronenberg is going to discover the meaning of life in a black screen.
I know a gent that did police detective work in St Petersburg, Russia
for a couple of years, mostly blackmarket stuff. One night over dinner
he told me, "In St Petersburg everything is available. And you don't
want to know what everything is". Eastern Promises has more than a
little bit of 'everything'.
Some real edge of your seat moments in this instant classic. Set in dark wet, and noir London, Eastern Promises takes a look into a Russian Gangster mentality and culture with some scenes that will make both your skin crawl and your heart ache. This is one tough and nasty thriller. Not for the squeamish.
A twisted morality tale of family dynamics, gang loyalty and one possible way the Good Guys just might usurp the Bad. Every principal character etches a note that resonates true to the scale of the story. And its an excellent dark dark black hearted story full of places and people that you just hope this movie is as close as you ever get to them. Genuinely bad characters with such exquisite details that it doesn't feel like fiction.
Go see it. Pleasant nightmares!
Russian mobsters, a rainy, murky London, a midwife and Viggo Mortensen makes this David Cronemberg film a perfect companion piece to his "A History Of Violence". My two favourite films of this idiosyncratic and fascinating director. Naomi Watts and motherhood go beautifully together and it's her gutsy maternal instinct that throws her in a world populated by truly horrible people. The trick is, we go with her and within that brutal world we meet some memorable characters. Viggo Mortensen, what an actor! His fearlessness is riveting, he's also beautiful beyond words. We think we can read him but we doubt our own thoughts, he's in total control of his character and of his audience. He has the face of an icon and he underplays it, over playing it. If you see History Of Violence and Eastern Promises you'll understand what I mean. This is not a film to like but to love and I loved it.
A terrific, tight, violent, homo erotic thriller with a soul and a heart and if that wasn't enough, Viggo Mortensen! He is an astonishing actor, he's always been. But now his Russian "I'm just a driver" goes further than most actors would have dared. He is magnetic. Cronenberg designs two lives again for him but this time the universe where he lives is made of monsters with an accent. The splendid Armin Mueller-Stahl's bonhomie doesn't fools us for a moment. "A diary?" That's enough for us to know and to fear. Vincent Cassel is also terrific and his down, tactile moments with Viggo Mortensen, have an erotic undercurrent that is impossible to ignore. Naomi Watts brings the heart to the proceedings without ever being sentimental. David Cronenberg, I feel, is entering a spectacular new face to his already remarkable career.
When I first saw the trailer for Eastern Promises, I was a little
confused. Yes, A History of Violence was a complete turnaround style
picture for David Cronenberg (whose previous films include the most
twistedly eccentric visions of horrendously graphic violence and
overtly over sexualized human beings and monsters), but I had not
expected that he would continue down the path of the "independent
mainstream". I was a little hesitant to see it at first, but gradually
the trailer's imagery drew me in. And now I can say there really is a
reason for the Oscar buzz.
There really is no way to perfectly describe Eastern Promises without giving a few juicy details away. It revolves around a Russian crime circuit in London, headed by Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), and includes his son Kirill (Vincent Cassel) and Kirill's driver Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen). Anna (Naomi Watts), a midwife, gets involved within the circuit unknowingly when she attempts to get a diary, recently left by a teenage mother who died during childbirth, translated from Russian into English.
The plot is really not that complicated, but giving a full description ruins the little idiosyncrasies and poignant character moments shared within the film. Oscar-nominee Steve Knight has constructed a gritty, atmospheric thriller that starts up quick and then slows down to a nice steady pace, just so the audience can catch its breath and brood over the workings of the cast. It is dialogue driven, but when it is not being sly or darkly comedic, it plays out like an opera. We gradually learn all the intimate details of every sketchy character, and we get a deeper sense of just how bad some of these characters are. It is not just a paint-by-numbers depiction of bad men, it is a highly detailed and clearly articulate character study. And even at its dullest moments, it works excellently.
Kudos also goes to Cronenberg's go to cinematographer, Peter Suschitsky. London and its drab and depressing climate are beautifully represented here from the first frame, all the way up to the last. Even when the sun is out, the sets have a certain subdued haze over them. We are watching a film about the criminal underbelly, and its settings help reflected just how low these people are in their moral standings. It works greatly in favour of the film, and it almost works as a character in itself. The drab, almost noir, settings help achieve the dirty politics of the film, and they help explore the character studies even further. Whether it's the scariness of watching Mortensen in the dark, or just looking at the glare of Mueller-Stahl in his dimmed restaurant, all of the details have been amped up on each set to give the audience a greater sense of understanding and purpose, for just about every character.
And what Cronenberg film would be without some bizarrely violent visuals? While not exactly a bloodbath, Cronenberg does have a few moments where he paints the screen a bright shade of scarlet red. And when it begins to flow, there is nothing that can really stop it. It works much in the same way as it did in Violence, in that the film builds to a scene loaded with it and just lets loose in a ferocious manner unlike any well-known director currently working in the mainstream on movies that are not specifically horror (with obvious exceptions to Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez). It has that Cronenbergian touch, and much like his other films, its style is impeccable and thought-provoking.
Another fantastic element is the score by Howard Shore. It slows when it needs to, and it quickens even faster. It plays out wonderfully throughout the scenes, and gives them a sort of classy feel. I realize I used the opera description before, but it fits even better here. Its great workings underpin every scene, and help dictate just how well off the film is.
What hurts the film (besides some very bizarre choices by Watts' character) is the denouement. It works, but I just cannot fathom how neither Knight nor Cronenberg thought it was appropriate for the story that was taking place. It just does not have the solid impact that every other scene either has, or builds to. I sat, almost dumbfounded, trying to figure out who thought it was a good idea, and why no one told them to re-write it. But I will say, much like Violence, Promises has an absolutely stunning final moment. But to get to that astounding moment, you have to sit through a rather disappointing finale.
If you thought you had seen Mortensen's best work before Promises, then you will be in for a very big surprise. His cold and calculating performance as Nikolai is the stuff that creates legends. He is menacing from the word go, and even as the enigmatic slowly becomes the well-known, you will just stare in fear and awe as he speaks on screen. From the terrifying tattoos, to a small character moment where he puts out a cigarette on his tongue, Mortensen is the quintessential image of evil. His unrestrained anger is felt throughout the film, and hopefully, will be just the right performance to launch him into the stratosphere of Oscar-nominated actors. Even during the let-down of an ending, he keeps up, and never lets anyone down.
The rest of the cast, albeit nowhere near as strong as Mortensen, are all very good supporting characters. Watts' character may have issues, but she breathes a certain life into the naïve character that I doubt many others could match. Much the same goes for Cassel and Mueller-Stahl, who bring just the right amount of intensity to their roles.
Although it is flawed, Cronenberg has delivered yet another exceptional thriller. It will surely be recognized at Oscar time, and for good reason too. Do not miss it.
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