Eastern Promises Review

by Ed Lau on November 24, 2007

Eastern Promises, Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts

The latest from David Cronenberg is one of those movies that has your attention the minute it starts. It opens with a scene in a small barbershop in London and continues with a young girl, collapsing on the floor of a pharmacy in a pool of her own blood. For me to give away any more of the main plot would be a crime against this film. Go see Eastern Promises and lose yourself in the world of the Russian mob.

Actually, I’ll tell you one more thing. As the young girl dies during childbirth, we are introduced to Anna Khitrova (played by the gorgeous Naomi Watts), a midwife at a London hospital. She picks up the girls diary, which she has her Russian mother and uncle translate for her. The diary, the girl and her baby bring together the characters of Eastern Promises as Anna, on a mission to find the surviving infant’s family, gets tangled in the inner workings of the Russian mafia.

Eastern Promises, Viggo Mortensen, Armin Mueller-Stahl

The head of the mob is Semyon, who may remind many people of Linderman from the first season of Heroes. On the surface, he’s a loving grandfather and owner of a successful fine dining establishment but underneath, he’s a ruthless killer at the top of the pyramid. Semyon has a son, Kirill, who is a drunken buffoon.

Keeping Kirill in check is Nikolai, played by Viggo Mortensen, who is a chauffeur and hitman for Semyon’s crime family. Nikolai is everything Kirill is not. Kirill is mostly a slob while Nikolai’s suits are impeccably tailored. While Kirill is brash and stupid, Nikolai is, for the most part, polite and tactful, particularly to Anna, claiming she should be with “nice people”.

Eastern Promises, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel

All the main roles are played to perfection. Armin Mueller-Stahl is an amazing mafia patriarch and Vincent Cassel is vile and dislikable as Kirill. Naomi Watts has some slight accent problems but seems to fit into her role well, playing a similar character to that she played in King Kong. Sometimes helpless and frightened and others fierce and determined. I have to admit, this might simply be my obsession with Naomi Watts…I just can’t keep my eyes off her when she’s on screen.

But as one would expect, the real star is Mortensen, who just may be one of the finest actors of our time. He has no Russian background (his father is Danish but he was born in New York) yet he has absolutely no problems getting the accents correct (I asked a Russian friend…) and there isn’t a second of this film where you think this is an actor at work. He is so believable as Nikolai that, since I had no idea who was in this movie when I started it, it took me a good half hour to figure out it was him. It is a chilling, visceral performance by Mortensen.

Eastern Promises, Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts

Like Cronenberg’s previous work with Mortensen, the excellent A History of Violence, there are elements here that you simply will not expect and at times, you may feel yourself a bit lost. However, when it does make sense and you look back over the movie, you can’t help but appreciate the intricate storyline and the brilliant way the characters and subtle points along the way intertwine. Also, there is a fight scene in this movie that is simply one of the most raw, violent and gripping scenes you’ll see this year and may be considered one of the greatest fight scenes in film. Your heart rate will skyrocket.

When I saw A History of Violence, I was convinced I was looking at one of the best movies of the year. I have to say now that I’m convinced Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen have done it again. Go see Eastern Promises if you haven’t already. It is an amazing movie experience.

Verdict: 9.0 out of 10

in Entertainment

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Derrich November 25, 2007 at 11:29 am

I didn’t read this review yet, Ed. Sorry. Didn’t want to catch any spoilers. But I definitely can’t wait to see this flick. I believe tonight will be the night…we shall dance. :)

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