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Eastern Promises (2007)

DVD Cover (Focus Features)
Genres:
Crime Thriller, Thriller
Director:
David Cronenberg David Cronenberg
Starring:
Josef Altin Josef Altin
Mina E. Mina Mina E. Mina
Aleksandar Mikic Aleksandar Mikic
Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse
Lalita Ahmed Lalita Ahmed

7.0 / 10 - Overall Rating

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A Russian teenager, living in London, dies during childbirth but leaves clues to a midwife in her journal, that could tie her child to a rape involving a violent Russian mob family. --TMDb
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Review by bluemeanie
Added: September 24, 2007
This is a sad day for me as a film critic. It is always a sad day when I have to write a negative review about a film I so expected to be something extraordinary. It doesn't happen a lot, but when it does, it really leaves a dent in my cinematic armor. The film this time is "Eastern Promises" and it comes from one of the most creative and innovative directors around, David Cronenberg. One of the premiere horror directors of the 1980's and 1990's, Cronenberg brought us classics like "The Fly", "Scanners", "The Brood" and "Shivers", as well as controversial pictures like "Crash". He has been on a role lately with the critically acclaimed "Spider" from 2002, and the even more popular and acclaimed "A History of Violence" from 2005, which became one of his most mainstream and and successful films to date. I expected "Eastern Promises" to serve as another notch in his cap - another successful film from an amazingly gifted director. Imagine my extreme disappointment when "Eastern Promises" turned out to be a dud. It wasn't a terrible film, but when you consider the director behind the camera, it was certainly a mediocre project. Cronenberg has basically re-created "A History of Violence" for a more international audience.

The film begins when a young girl named Tatiana (Sarah Jeanne-Labrosse) gives birth to a child and dies in delivery. Her nurse, Anna (Naomi Watts) takes her diary and decides that she wants to see that it gets to the girl's family in Russia. She finds a card inside that takes her to a restaurant owned by a man named Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl). He claims not to know the girl, but wants to help Anna translate the book. There, she meets Semyon's son Kirill (Vincent Cassel) and a man who appears to be their driver, Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen). Nikolai is working for the family, trying to earn stars in the Russian mafia. The film is, essentially, about Anna as she tries to find out who the baby belongs to, and Nikolai as he makes his way through the ranks of organized crime. The film takes a turn towards the end that hatches during one of the most intense sequences ever caught on film, with half-naked men slicing and dicing one another in a bath house. This takes Nikolai down a much different path for the rest of the film and totally re-invents his character in a way that just doesn't not work cinematically. The film is set in London, but you have a difficult time figuring that out until someone finally mentions it. At first, you think they're probably in Russia, since every single character seems to either be from Russia or speak in a Russian accent.

There is just not much credibility to this film. Viggo Mortensen's character starts out one way and then makes this huge transformation out of the blue. And I don't think I liked the whole revelation about his character - it just didn't fit with what I had seen. The same can be said for the character Remyon, played by Armin Mueller-Stahl. He is spoken about as this cold blooded and malicious person and we never even see a glimpse of that when he is on screen. The character, as Mueller-Stahl portrays him, could not be responsible for the acts he is suggested to have committed. There was also an odd revelation about the character of Kirill, when it is revealed that he might be and probably is a homosexual, which leads to a bizarre and unintentionally awkward scene between Mortensen and Cassel where we start to question the sexuality of both men, which culminates in Mortenson and Watts kissing, which really confuses us even more. And, on a minor note, I just did not buy Viggo Mortensen's accent in the film. It sounded far too over pronounced. And sure, you can cop out and say it's backed up by his revelation at the end, but it still doesn't take away the fact that his character was still Russian and should have had a more credible Russian accent. And when did so many Russians move to London? I have been twice and don't recall seeing a one.

But, in traditional Cronenberg style, there is some wonder to behold. "Eastern Promises" features the most authentic throat slashings in cinematic history. The film opens with one and there is yet another one and they are both realistic and horrifying. As he demonstrated with to outstanding effect in "A History of Violence", Cronenberg knows how to make death scenes realistic, and he does so again with this film. I also have to comment on the intensity of the bath house sequence, which is just mind blowing. I wish the rest of the film had lived up to the bar set so high by this single stand out scene in the film. Unfortunately, Cronenberg is treading the same waters as he did with "A History of Violence" - a man living a lie in a world of violence. "Eastern Promises" also features a fine performance from Armin Mueller-Stahl. Either Stahl's character should have been more vicious, like the stories about him suggest, or the stories should have been modified to match Stahl's character. It didn't work, but his performance was solid therein. Naomi Watts really doesn't have much to do here, but she does with it what she can. Vincent Cassel, whom I've never been really fond of on screen, doesn't really do anything at all here worth mentioning. He got on my nerves in this film just like he does in every film in which he appears. Finally, the ending is so unsatisfying and abrupt that it made me dislike the film on a whole different level. The film has a plot that goes nowhere and characters that, essentially do nothing. That's it in a nutshell.

Please keep in mind how much I wanted to like this film. I am a huge David Cronenberg fan and I think his last two films were masterpieces, but "Eastern Promises" is a definite miss from the fine director. There just isn't any substance here, and other that a couple of very intense and very well executed sequences of violence, "Eastern Promises" creeps at a snail's pace. Show me this film if it had been made directly after "Spider", before "A History of Violence". I am willing to bet it would have been a totally different film. Cronenberg's going mainstream is a good thing, but he seems to have started directing that way, and that is just not Cronenberg. "Eastern Promises" will probably disappoint most people. I don't see how it couldn't, especially when you stack it up against his previous films. "Eastern Promises" are broken very easily in this picture.

4/10.
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Review by Ginose
Added: September 23, 2007
Hmmmm... it's hard to say that I'm a fan of Viggo Mortensen's acting. To be honest, I've only seen about seven of his movies (prior to this one) and I only like maybe two. Maybe I'm overstating his acting skills... but I will safely say that he has my nomination for Best Actor 2007.

To call “Eastern Promises” one of the best movies of this year would be a huge understatement. This film was practically flawless. Normally I would use this moment to explain the fine aspects/performances/direction of this film, but, fuck it. Right now I'm going to do my best not to ruin this spectacular film for you.

The film itself opens with a short scene in a barber shop where a critical event happens (notice my distinct vagueness), which then cuts to a pharmacy in which a young girl falls to the ground in a large puddle of her own blood. She is rushed to the hospital where, during her obvious death, she gives birth to a baby girl. Anna (Naomi Watts) is a maternity ward nurse who just so happens to be there during the entire ordeal and takes a great affection for the newly orphaned child. On the body of the girl she found a diary, which is, of course, completely in Russian. As things go on she begins to have the book translated, introducing her deeper and deeper into the world of the Russian mafia (interested in how all this comes about?). We go further still as we are introduced to the higher-ups in this underground, introducing ourselves to the complex and painful lives of the Russian mafia, learning more and more that all crime, even the ones we get away with, have a very heavy price.

Note my vague description? Wow, I wonder why a reviewer would be so vague with the plot of a film... Because this films plot gets so deep and entangled that if you get even a mildly exposed insight into the events of it then it'll ruin the WHOLE viewing experience for you as you'll be too busy trying to incorporate what you heard into the plot to actually enjoy the movie to its fullest. Trust me, you'll still probably love it (if these kinds of movies appeal to your interest) but it just won't be the same.

Now, the acting... As I so boldly stated above, I hereby nominate Viggo Mortensen as best performance I've seen in any film this year. He plays all aspects of his character (the Russian Mafioso named Nikolai) with such amazing tact and vitality that, more then a handful of scenes, I actually thought he could have been his character. Naomi Watts acted far above what her usual talents suggest, not missing a beat in a role with such an emotional hold, I felt so much for her character throughout the film that I felt like I could very well be living in their world.

Cronenberg (as always, it seems) has given us another masterpiece of cinema. If this man isn't proof that film can still be an art form, I don't know what is. The entire environment is just a beauty to look at. Each scene fits its content perfectly, but, at the same time, has such a sorrowful atmosphere in which you just can kill the sinking feeling in your stomach... it's a terrible, wonderful fear...

All in all this is in my yearly to 10... hell, top 5... an easy 9.8/10
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grain of sand #1: grain of sand - added 12/22/2007, 06:38 AM
finally saw this and enjoyed it immensely.. I do NOT view this as another A History of Violence.. I view this as another chapter in the "is violence ever justifiable?" David Cronenberg films.
I couldn't find much wrong with this besides some semi sketchy accents, but that didn't bother me. great graphic violence and some very cool russian tattoo background stories.. ill be purchasing this for my collection asap :)

9/10
blarc #2: blarc - added 02/02/2012, 02:44 PM
agree with all.
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