Eastern Promises
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir David Cronenberg
scr Steve Knight
with Naomi Watts, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Sinéad Cusack, Jerzy Skolimowski, Donald Sumpter, Mina E Mina, Josef Altin, Raza Jaffrey, Tereza Srbova, Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse
release US 14.Sep.07,
UK 26.Oct.07
07/UK Focus 1h40
Eastern Promises
Into the lion's den: Mortensen and Watts

cassel mueller-stahl cusack

Opening film:
London Film Fest

Eastern Promises Cronenberg merges his intriguing worldview with writer Knight (Dirty Pretty Things) to create a haunting, unsettling thriller. It features strikingly good performances, as well as a realistic vision of London's darker, wetter corners.

Anna (Watts) is a London midwife with Russian heritage who treats a pregnant 14-year-old, losing the patient but saving the baby. While searching for the family, Anna meets a Russian mobster, Semyon (Mueller-Stahl), his live-wire son Kirill (Cassel) and their faithful driver Nikolai (Mortensen). Semyon is shifty and suspicious, while Nikolai is strangely helpful, but Anna knows that she's already in trouble--a fact confirmed by her Russian uncle Stepan (Skolimowski). As a cop (Sumpter) closes in and the baby's life becomes a threat to the mafia, Anna will need to trust Nikolai in order to survive.

The story is riveting, increasing its grip on us as it deepens and progresses. The characters are vivid, complex and intriguing, constantly revealing secrets and giving us hints about revelations to come. These are meaty roles, and the actors really run with them. Cronenberg directs the cast to his usual slightly heightened reality, which invests every line and action with subtext and refuses to spoon-feed the answers.

This rather creepy approach works especially well with the Russians; Mortensen, Cassel and Mueller-Stahl all deliver strikingly provocative turns as men with deep moral issues. While Kirill operates at full-pitch, Nikolai matter-of-factly goes about his gruesome business. And Mortensen deserves additional credit for a viciously unnerving fight in which he takes on two Chechen thugs while wearing only his elaborate tattoos. By contrast, Watts is naturalistic and textured as the innocent who wanders into the lion's den.

Cronenberg expertly establishes a quietly menacing tone from the start, mixing hideous grisliness with dark humour and even some surprising emotion. Rumours and innuendo continually complicate the plot, which has several sharp turns along the way that are beautifully played as slowly revealed truth rather than movie surprises. And with such expert filmmaking, the issue of human trafficking actually emerges much more strongly than if it descended into Hollywood-style preachiness. Like those elaborate mob tattoos, this film gets under your skin and stays there.

cert 18 themes, language, strong violence, sexuality 23.Aug.07

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Eastern Promises alineguillot, email: 5/5 "So effective was the setting of this movie that, even though I've spent time in London, for the first 30 minutes of the film I really thought it was taking place in Russia. I actually kept waiting for subtitles! Although there were scenes of extreme violence (I did have to turn away from the screen several times), the fight in the sauna was worth the price of admission. I can only compare it to watching Michelangelo's David come to life -- the male form in all its potent beauty and grace. Riveting performances by all the actors - even those in smaller parts, coupled with the fast pace of the film and its surprising ending -- left me feeling like I had tasted something delicious and wanted more!" (2.Oct.07)
© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall