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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 20%
Average: 7.14%
Pretty Bad: 5.71%
Total Crap: 8.57%

6 reviews, 34 user ratings

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Eastern Promises
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by brianorndorf

"Now I can cross 'See Viggo Mortensen's Balls' off my things to do list"
5 stars

“Eastern Promises” isn’t so much a motion picture as it is a master class in performance nuance and tonal control. It’s a feature that drills into the senses, building an atmosphere of anxiety and ambiguity that strangely never imposes itself on the audience, but merely takes them by the hand and seduces them with taught, mercurial filmmaking of the highest order.

Anna (Naomi Watts) is a midwife troubled by her encounter with a pregnant teen who died while giving birth to her baby. Finding a diary written in Russian, Anna goes to her family, hoping her Russia-born uncle will be able to translate. Digging for answers, Anna heads to Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), the head of the London contingent of the vory v zakone crime family. Slowly comprehending that the diary she’s unable to read holds great danger, Anna finds some comfort in Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), a driver with a semblance of conscience.

“A History of Violence” brought director David Cronenberg a massive amount of acclaim, a flicker of box office might, and returned a focal point to his filmmaking. “Eastern Promises” furthers his career resurgence, presenting a director completely in control of his askew vision, constructing a picture that doesn’t have much in the way of narrative heft, but still incorporates an immediacy that’s incredible.

While sold as a thriller, “Promises” is something more of a dissection of moral integrity. Written by Steven Knight (“Dirty Pretty Things”), the film doesn’t concern itself with chases, gunfights, or any pulse-quickening conventions. Think of “Promises” as a Russian variation of “The Godfather,” looking at the process of a tight crime family, how they clean up their dirty laundry, and how outsiders are dealt with when they come uncomfortably close. Knight has written a disciplined, composed screenplay of Russian familial interaction and language-crossing sex-crime mystery, yet, in the hands of Cronenberg, “Promises” expands into a remarkable tale of escalating threat from all sides of the frame.

While the picture is far more interested in brooding and silent intimidation than clichéd expressions of worry, that doesn’t mean Cronenberg has ditched his continued curiosity with extreme violence and the textures of sliced flesh. “Promises” contains one of the best sequences of his continually daring career, showing Nikolai brutally fending off two assassins in a steam room. Of course, this being a Cronenberg film, Mortensen performs the entire five-minute scene naked, and I don’t mean emotionally. As if watching three guys cut each other up with knives isn’t unsettling enough, here’s the perfect added spice of disbelief slipped in by the filmmaker to take something vicious and make it unforgettable.

Even without his nudity, Mortensen’s performance here is a restrained, shadowed work of art. Perfecting a Russian accent and shaping himself into an impeccably suited vision of doom, the actor nails the role of Nikolai, rendering both sides of the psychological coin with a comfort his early career was begging for. Add to the mix a frighteningly imposing turn from Mueller-Stahl, a deliciously loutish one from Vincent Cassel (as Semyon’s dim-witted son and Nikolai’s albatross), and an assortment of memorable Cronenberg-tweaked supporting performances, and “Promises” is a tremendous force of actorly might, and the director wisely invests in their reservoir of creativity.

“Promises” is not the snappiest mystery around, as it requires a thorough concentration that matches the painstaking tone Cronenberg and Knight are attempting to stir up; but for those with a little more patience, “Eastern Promises” is an extraordinarily threatening crime saga made with unnerving skill and exquisite detail.

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originally posted: 09/14/07 16:44:47
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell kinky but interesting 4 stars
4/04/11 fartvenugen overrated, unrealistic, pooptastic 2 stars
3/17/09 MP Bartley Simmers with quiet menace. Watts and Mortensen outstanding. 4 stars
11/26/08 Shaun Wallner Well made. 5 stars
10/23/08 mr.mike The climactic twist did not do the movie justice. 3 stars
10/03/08 K. Sear Not the best Cronenberg has done, but still an enjoyable film. 4 stars
6/18/08 daveyt enjoyable evolution of the genre, nothing earth shatteringly new, but enjoyable! 4 stars
5/19/08 Jack Sommersby Boring story, boring characters, and boring direction. 1 stars
4/24/08 Quigley Expertly acted and directed, but the mob has seen better stories thatn this. 4 stars
3/07/08 Weaver Terrible movie, the violence was tame and sparse, twists were predictable, bland characters 2 stars
3/03/08 mb Bloody ugly ... junk movie 1 stars
3/01/08 Ivana Mann Uncompromisingly brutal and riveting.One of Cronenberg's true cinematic triumphs! 5 stars
3/01/08 R.W. Welch Grim Russian mob flick has dandy knife fight. Not much else. 3 stars
2/03/08 ad Brooklyn gangsters pretending to be russian mafia 1 stars
1/27/08 Jefenator Less Cronenberg quirkiness than usual. Viggo is excellent! 4 stars
1/27/08 cootango very boring, waste of 2 hrs. This is no triller. 1 stars
1/27/08 razztek Awesome movie - Cronenberg does it again - well worth your time 5 stars
1/11/08 reptilesni This is what good film making looks like. 5 stars
12/31/07 Monday Morning Way overrated by reviewers on this site. Very average. 3 stars
12/25/07 action movie fan does not keep it,s promises-boring consfusing tale-skip it 2 stars
12/16/07 Alice Thought it was boring,superficial and VERY overated like all cronenberg movies ! 2 stars
12/13/07 William Goss Save for a balls-out fight scene and Viggo throughout, less than the sum of its parts. 3 stars
11/25/07 Jose Luis Instant classic. Cronenberg´s best movie, awesome! 5 stars
10/18/07 Brad It's Cronenberg...'nuff said. Great stuff. 4 stars
10/15/07 Keystra Williams Viggo BETTER get nominated for this. Awesome. 5 stars
9/30/07 errantvine A master picture and an absolute must 5 stars
9/27/07 Orangina As a Russian, I expected little but was pleasantly surprised. 5 stars
9/25/07 C. Chappell Really dark, really creepy, really good, 5 stars
9/24/07 justin it is obvious that no russians were involved in the making of this film... and obvious why 1 stars
9/23/07 damalc very good, but i did not like it as much when they revealed viggo's motive 5 stars
9/23/07 Private In the minority finding this generic and uninvolving. 3 stars
9/22/07 Ole Man Bourbon I liked it, but I prefer the weird Cronenberg to the nuanced Cronenberg 4 stars
9/16/07 JEANY SANCHEZ the best movie 5 stars
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  14-Sep-2007 (R)
  DVD: 23-Dec-2007



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