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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 19.72%
Average: 7.04%
Pretty Bad: 5.63%
Total Crap: 8.45%

6 reviews, 35 user ratings

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Eastern Promises
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by Lybarger

"The Russian Mob, and so much more."
5 stars

As he matures, Canadian director David Cronenberg takes seemingly conventional movie ideas and finds compelling angles that most other filmmakers ignore. On the surface, ‘Eastern Promises’ is a grim, hard-hitting look at London’s Russian mob, but Cronenberg and screenwriter Steve Knight (‘Amazing Grace’) are actually examining the broader questions of whether people can live moral lives even in the foulest places on Earth.

As with “A History of Violence,” Cronenberg finds surprising narrative and emotional depth in his sordid subject. A lot of recent films desensitize a viewer to the brutalities some of the characters commit by cutting away from the action or by having the characters wisecrack their way through human dismemberment.

Without reveling in the carnage or suffering his characters experience, Cronenberg makes viewers feel every blow or stab wound the characters endure. He also has an unerring instinct for when the audience has been sufficiently horrified so that he can cut away. Even when the good guys come out on top in his movies, it’s not a comfortable or easy experience. But it certainly is rewarding.

Unlike some of his acclaimed peers, Cronenberg deserves praise for simply not wasting a viewers’ time and for getting right to the story. After quickly presenting the horrific demise of a gangster who has made one too many enemies, Cronenberg effortlessly shifts to following a midwife named Anna (Naomi Watts) who has been trying to help an abandoned teenage mother deliver her baby.

When the young woman dies in labor, Anna sets out to find the infant’s surviving relatives. This proves to be a potentially lethal mistake because the underage woman was a prostitute who had been lured from Russia by the mob.

The crime family who led her into prostitution is headed by Semyon (a terrific Armin Mueller-Stahl), who can be a charming, grandfatherly fellow with his restaurant customers but is not above kicking his own son Kirill (Vincent Cassel) if things don’t go his way.

Kirill has a quiet but eerily effective lieutenant named Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen, “A History of Violence”) who helps Anna with her inquiries while reporting back to Semyon.

Anna may be a naďve about the brutal world she’s entered, but it doesn’t take her long to realize that her concern for the orphaned child may have put her and her entire family into danger.

None of this would be terribly urgent or gripping if Cronenberg weren’t as good as motivating actors as he is at making prosthetics pass for real gore. Mortensen is ideally cast as Nikolai, spouting out a convincing accent and projecting an assured menace. But Mortensen also gives Nikolai a believable humanity. He can persuade fellow wise guys out of committing additionally heinous acts by simply giving them a sidelong glance.

Does he have a conscience his crooked peers lack or is he up to something more sinister than even Semyon could conceive? That question keeps “Eastern Promises” chugging along at a furious pace.

Mortensen should have received an Oscar nomination for his subtle turn in “A History of Violence” and could receive a nod for this one as well. Thankfully, he seems to push the rest of the cast into doing their best as well.

Watts manages to hold her own against Mortensen’s inspired work and believably stares down the intimidating Mortensen and Cassel. She also projects just enough intelligence to make you believe that she’s figured out that Semyon is as sadistic as he is ingratiating.

The film has received a fair amount of publicity because of a scene where a naked Nikolai fights for his life against two assassins. Viewers who bought tickets because they’re hot for Mortensen’s heavily tattooed bod may be in for a jolt. The sequence is more brutal than it is arousing, and it’s disturbing because all bets are off in the conflict. No move is too dirty. Cronenberg shoots the sequence in long wide takes that make it seem more real and unflinching.

But the most haunting images from “Easter Promises” come not from the violence but from parting stares that indicate when one character is about to lose his life or when another has lost his soul.

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originally posted: 09/21/07 22:25:59
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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

2/28/20 Vincent Cassel When Viggo Mortensen rapes Tereza Srbova to “prove” his character wasn’t gay,, so bru 5 stars
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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