Sunday, September 23, 2007

Eastern Promises

Director: David Cronenberg (A History of Violence, The Fly, Videodrome, eXistenZ, Scanners)
Producers: Robert Lantos, Paul Webster
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Sinead Cusack
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 100 min
read my spoiler disclaimer

reviewed by Andrew James
     After 2005's breathtaking piece of work, A History of Violence (MP review), it was hard to walk into the theater without high hopes and expectations for Cronenberg's sophmore effort in the world of mainstream film making. Eastern Promises seems to be trying really hard and ends up walking a fence line that teeters between disaster or brilliance. Fortunately, the film doesn't fall on the disaster side; not even close. But it does stumble a bit here and there and by the end, the audience is left dangling on that wrong side of the fence.

      Taing place in London, a young, pregnant, Russian girl is whisked into a hospital after being found in a pharmacy bleeding profusely from between her legs. The midwife at the hospital, played by Naomi Watts, declares the girl dead but manages to save the baby. With no idea as to who the unidentified girl is, she finds a diary written in Russian with the girl's belongings. She asks a Russian restaurant owner for help in translating the diary, in hopes that she will find an address for the girl's next of kin. Little does she know that this restaurant owner is "king" of the Russian Mafia and has some, as of yet, unknown role in the girl's death.

      Cronenberg has teamed up again with Viggo Mortensen, who plays a chauffeur for the mob and is also assigned the task of being a body guard for the "heir to the throne" so to speak, played by the usually pretty great, Vincent Cassel. The performances all around are adequate. There isn't really alot to play with, so the actors do what they can with what they're given. The strongest performance is easily that of Mortensen; though I haven't experienced enough Russian to know if it works - it may come off as schlocky to a more experienced ear. But he is confident and off-typecast enough that he is really the only compelling and interesting character to watch. Cassel is serviceable, but his character is such a whiny prick that it's hard to be too interested in him.

      The storyline lacks a bit of the magic rawness that A History of Violence had. Some of the story threads border on uninteresting and several of the characters don't border at all - they simply are not enjoyable or don't even really matter to the story, yet we're forced to spend time with them. It's not muddled, it's just disjointed. And the predictability factor? It's pretty easy to spot twists and where things are going about halfway through the movie.

      Like History, this film is not for the squeamish. Several key sequences are literally squirting with blood and I saw many (female) heads turn away from the screen. In most cases though, the violence is just there for the sake of violence and shock value. It didn't hold any particular interest to myself or that of the storyline.

      Maybe it's unfair to compare Eastern Promises with its 2005 predocessor; but unfortunately it is unavoidable as they are both Cronenberg's new style and both give us the same editor and the same visual cues of cinematographer Peter Suschitzky. With the same crew and Mortensen in the lead, the comparisons are inevitable.

      By the end, the film really seem to have skipped a reel or two and I think really leaves its audience bewildered and maybe even feeling short changed. A rare exception where I think the film actually could've been a bit longer for a tad more exposition, character depth, intrigue and resolution.

      Having said all of the above, the movie is not a total meltdown. It definitely has its moments and the intensity of a couple of scenes really impact hard enough for some emotional craters. As one of the few in this world who does not see the greatness in The Godfather, the film sort of reminded me of a Russian version of said film, but attempting an injection of some semblence of action and intrigue. It's complete with the usual mafia, cliche lines and each of the cohorts all playing the usual mind games to try and get ahead within the organization. Unfortunately, it maybe this lack of restraint that ultimately dooms Eastern Promises to slightly better than mediocrity. Maybe Cronenberg could take a lesson from Coppola - instead of his incessant narcissism, remember that sometimes less is more.

Click "play" to see the trailer:

IMDb profile - full cast and crew
Official Site
Flixster Profile for Eastern Promises

Posted by Andrew James in

(602) Comments • (3) TrackbacksPermalink
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  1. I wasn’t a huge fan of “A History of Violence” the first time I saw it, it was a movie that has grown on me - and one I still don’t like as much as everyone else seems to. I did, however, love this on first viewing. I loved the look and feel of the movie and even Cassel’s Kirill - a character I don’t think we were ever supposed to like. Still, I do agree that there are some stumbling spots but I think they’re fairly minor and easy to overlook. I’d go as far as to say that this is one of the better movies I’ve seen this year (though I admit I still haven’t seen “3:10 to Yuma").

    Marina  on  09/27  at  07:00 PM
  2. i had no doubt about loving this movie from start… i’ve heard about it before the official announcement.

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  3. One special movie. Thanks for the review.

    cheap pharmacy  on  01/16  at  05:32 PM
  4. Great movie, i am loving it.

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  5. cool movie

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  6. I like blonde actress from this movie. I also like blonde women in general.

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  7. Intresting film, but no realistic

    Video Junky  on  04/08  at  12:39 PM
  8. Impressive and well stylized movie

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  9. Great movie. )

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