Viggo Mortensen and Academy AwardŽ nominee Naomi Watts star in this electrifying thriller from critically acclaimed director David Cronenberg (A History of Violence). Criminal mastermind Nikolai (Mortensen) finds his ties ... more »to a notorious crime family shaken when he crosses paths with Anna (Watts), a midwife who has accidentally uncovered evidence against them. Their unusual relationship sets off an unstoppable chain of murder, mystery and deception in the explosive film critics are calling "provocative and engrossing" (Claudia Puig, USA Today).« less
RMurray847 | Albuquerque, NM United States | 12/01/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I emphasized the "ADULT-THEMED" idea in my title because one of the best things about seeing a film like EASTERN PROMISES is that it is so adult, so uncompromised. Cronenberg gets to make the movies he wants to, and it doesn't have to be watered down or dumbed-down to make it sell to a broad audience. We get a brutal, sometimes squirm-inducing look at a underworld we haven't seen like this before...and there's no gloss, no pandering to a teen audience, no sappy ending, etc. etc. The ending is SATISFYING...but it isn't easy or "Hollywood."
First of all, the script is outstanding. From the creator of another stunning film about London's "seamy underbelly," DIRTY PRETTY THINGS...the plot makes sense, the threads all come together and the characters are simply but sharply delineated. Yet at no time do I feel the themes are being spoon-fed. Also, some of the acts that are perpetrated on Viggo Mortensen's character near the end of the film are acts of amazing betrayal...yet if you haven't been paying attention, you might miss that. It's not a super-complex plot...but it doesn't grab you by the hand and lead you from place to place.
Speaking of Mortensen...this is his best performance ever. Granted, Aragon is crown-jewel, and he handled it well...but those films were events, such spectacle that often what he simply needed to do was wear his costume, ride his horse and look great. In EASTERN PROMISES, he has to make us care about a very nasty piece of work indeed. He's also very stony-faced...so much of what we learn about him, especially early on, comes from very subtle work. Again, each word of the script is perfectly chosen, and Mortensen digs deep here. He's not always my favorite actor...I actually wasn't nuts about him in A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (A film I otherwise greatly admired)...but he's perfectly cast here. And of course, he's amazing to watch in the now infamous nude fight scene. It's a little bit distracting being aware of male full-frontal nudity flashing around...almost enough to take one out of the scene...but the scene is so well staged that the sheer PAIN of it soon wipes out any feeling of "hey, we get to see ALL of Viggo Mortensen."
Armin Mueller-Stahl plays the older patriarch of the Russian mafia family, and he's the best of this type of character I've seen in awhile. You know the one...the old gangster who is so sweet and loving to the youngsters in his family, so polite and full of grace and manners. Picture Brando in the wedding scenes of THE GODFATHER or even Paul Newman in early scenes of ROAD TO PERDITION. Stahl is even better...his eyes twinkle with charm. But boy, when the mask drops and we see the real guy...still soft-spoken and considered...he's stunningly evil. I really enjoyed seeing him again...it seems like it's been awhile since he was in a film.
Vincent Cassel plays Stahl's hot-headed son...another gangster cliche...the kid who is supposed to take over the business, but is actually a bit of a moron and troublemaker. But again, the character has surprises up its sleeve. Also, Naomi Watts plays the nurse who brings a motherless baby unwittingly into this underworld...and she is reliably good. Her character doesn't get to have all the dramatic flourishes...but Watts gives another patented, fully committed, honest performance. I believe she may be our most under-rated actress, even though she has been nominated for awards and starred in many films...I think she's still undervalued. EASTERN PROMISES won't win her new fans or an Oscar...but she is still very good.
Notice I didn't talk much about the plot. Others have done it better, and to be honest, I'd love it if you just went to see the film having little idea of what you were about to experience. It's a brutal journey...but it is full of unexpected turns...not just of plot but of character. I'll bet come year end, this will still be one of my favorites of the year! Highly, highly recommended for ADULT audiences!!"
'Eastern Promises' Delivers!
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 12/25/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"EASTERN PROMISES as written by Steven Knight and directed by David Cronenberg is one of the grittiest, insightful, and well-acted films of the year. Maintaining his keen eye for the dark side of life and the people who dwell in its shadows, Cronenberg has once again brought us characters so strongly etched on film that they will be remembered for many years.
The setting is London where lives the enigmatic Russian-born Nikolai Luzhin (Viggo Mortensen in an Oscar caliber performance) who serves as a driver for a cloaked mysterious Russian family, members of the Russian mafia called the Vory V Zakone, a bizarre brotherhood populated with men whose lives of crime are told in tattooed stories on their bodies. The head of the family is the elegant restaurateur Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) whose son Kirill (Vincent Cassel) carries on the crime aspects of the family but shows no role of leadership in his dissipated life style. As the film opens we observe the birth of a little girl to a drug-addled mother Tatiana (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse): she dies during childbirth having been delivered by a midwife Anna (Naomi Watts) who herself has a history of a stillborn child. Anna finds a diary in Tatiana's purse, saves it, and takes it to her uncle to translate it form the Russian. Opening the diary opens dark secrets for Semyon and Kirill: Tatiana was apparently one of the many illegal Russian prostitutes imported by the Vory V Zakone crime syndication and was raped by Semyon whose daughter was born as Tatiana died. Anna's investigation as to the baby's heritage includes the invaluable help of Nikolai who despite his past has a soft spot for Anna and her plight and it is the manner in which the interplay of Anna, Semyon, Kirill and Nikolai works out that brings the film to its conclusion.
The acting is impeccable with Mortensen, Watts, Cassell, and Mueller-Stahl at peak form. Cameo roles by Sinéad Cusack and Jerzy Skolimowski, among others, are fully fleshed. The accents are believable and the multiple tattoos on Mortensen's body (seen fully in the much ballyhooed bathhouse scene, more about killing than about voyeurism) match the dark, dank atmosphere well captured by the cinematographer Peter Suschitzky and echoed with the musical score by Howard Shore. This is a tough movie for the squeamish to watch, but the story is superb and the film is Cronenberg at his best. Grady Harp, December 07 "
Strong film--character study features contrast between compa
R. Kyle | USA | 09/26/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Just five days short of Christmas, a girl child is born. As she takes her first breath, midwife Anne (Watts) is calling the time of death of her teenage mother, Tatiana, who bears injection bruises on her slender arms.
Perhaps it's the recent loss of her own child from a former lover, the time of year, or just her character in general, but Anne is deeply touched by the situation and vows to find the baby, who she's named Christina, a family and a decent life instead of institutionalized foster care. So she steps over the line and takes the mother's personal effects--a diary which is written in Russian.
Despite being warned not to dig any deeper by her Uncle Stepan, a recent Russian emigre and former KGB agent (Skolimowski) and her English mother (Sinead Cusack), she goes to the one place where she has a clue in English--a Russian restaurant called the Trans Siberian.
There she meets three men: Semyon (Mueller-Stahl), an older Russian who appears at first as a strong but benevolent father figure whose Borscht is almost identical to what Anne's own father used to make. Kirill (Cassel) a drunken and somewhat overdramatic heir to the throne and Nikolai (Mortenson) the very dispassionate driver for Kirill, who he's sworn a brotherly allegiance to.
At first, Semyon denies knowing anything about the mother of the deceased young woman, but his interest piques when Anne tells him there's a diary. He offers to translate the diary and find the child's family for her. Anne at first demurs, suspecting Semyon is Vory v Zakone (Russian mob) but he's very persuasive and she agrees to return the next night.
Meanwhile, Kirill, the family enforcer and Semyon's only son, has declared war on a rival Chechin gang by killing one of the members who has disparaged his character. The man is dispatched and disposed of with machinelike precision that's almost more frightening than any violence the film depicts.
Anne's and Kirill's actions set into play a chain of events where we witness violence and betrayal at every turn. Throughout the current action, Tatiana's voice (Sarah Labrosse) quietly relates the contents her diary to us, detailing first hope, then rape and prostitution while being forced to take drugs every day.
Director David Cronenberg definitely upped the ante as far as violence and that violence is depicted with a clarity and realism that few films today can match.
While many focus on the violence, what's most interesting about this film is the character study. Mueller-Stahl's depiction of Semyon is the best 'Godfather' I have seen to date and is in my opinion well worth a supporting actor Oscar. His switch from a loving family man to someone who'd betray a member for another will keep you riveted in your seat.
Both Anne and Nikolai cross the line in different ways and seeing how the two individually act and interact with each other is one of the best parts of the film. Anne doesn't hold back what she feels while Nikolai plays his cards very close to the vest, but can surprise you too.
Viggo Mortenson, who I will always reign as Aragorn in my mind, was also amazing. According to the press on "Promises", he spent weeks in Russia traveling without a translator so he could perfect his Russian and his knowledge of the culture that made Nikolai. The man will always have 'stars' as far as I am concerned.
Grabs You By The Throat And Doesn't Let Go
thornhillatthemovies.com | Venice, CA United States | 09/21/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"From the first frames, "Eastern Promises" grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go.
"A History of Violence" is one of my favorite films. Director David Cronenberg brings together a top-notch cast, including Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello as a married couple living in small town America who has to contend with some new and unexpected violence. William Hurt turns in an Oscar worthy performance as a mobster and Ed Harris is pretty scary as a determined gangster ready to extract revenge for past misdeeds. What makes "Violence" so great is Cronenberg's ability to make everything seem so real. We believe Mortensen and Bello are married. They are sexy, happy, love each other, have kids they love, seem content. When the act of violence occurs, and Mortensen's character becomes a hero, he earns unwanted media attention leading to a confrontation with the gangsters. As the danger escalates, and secrets are revealed, we care more and more about Mortensen's and Bello's characters. Is the film violent? Yes, but these scenes play a significant role in the overall story. Amazingly, "A History of Violence" is based on a graphic novel.
Cronenberg and Mortensen apparently liked working together so well they reteam for "Eastern Promises".
Anna (Naomi Watts), a midwife at a hospital in London, treats a young pregnant woman a few nights before Christmas. When the mother dies, the midwife looks through her belongings, trying to find the address of family, to care for the newborn child. All she finds is a diary filled with entries written in Russian and a business card for a restaurant called Trans-Siberian. The next day, she rides her motorcycle to this restaurant and meets the owner, Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl). He is preparing a large feast for his extended family but can spare a few moments. He listens to Anna's story and is sorry he can't help. Anna thanks him for his time and mentions she will have her uncle translate the girl's diary, to see if they can find an address. Diary? Semyon tells her to bring the diary to him the next day, he will help translate it. As she leaves the restaurant, Anna meets Nikolai (Mortensen) and Kiril (Vincent Cassel). Kiril is the son of Semyon and considers himself the prince of the crime family his father has built. Nikolai is his friend, and a `driver' for the organization. Anna realizes these people are part of the Russian mob, but continues to run into them, ignoring her mother's pleas to stay away. As if the problem of the dead girl is not enough, Semyon must deal with Kiril's murder of a Chechen gangster. How can he protect his son?
I read a story about "Eastern Promises" quoting Cronenberg disputing the film is very violent. His argument was something along the lines of "There are only three scenes of violence". It's enough, David. It's enough. Cronenberg is a very good director, one of the most consistent working in film today. When he makes a film, he strives to make it as authentic as possible. If the film contains violence, he wants it to be authentic. Those three scenes are graphic, scary and very believable because they are portrayed in such a believable fashion. This is not the only aspect of the film worth mentioning, and the violence is an integral part of the story and these characters lives, but these scenes will linger in your memory for a while, much as they have mine. One scene in particular is so memorable, and something I am sure you have never seen before, that it might just become one of those scenes people keep referring to. It involves Nikolai fighting with some gangsters, in a steam bath, and Nikolai is buck-naked. Yes, Viggo Mortensen is buck-naked. I think I just sold a number of tickets. I want a commission.
But Cronenberg doesn't shrink away from showing the consequences of violence. If someone gets slashed with a razor, they bleed. If someone gets punched, you almost feel it in your gut. Anyone who has seen any of Cronenberg's other films realizes this is mild in comparison to some of the things he has showed in his earlier work. But it is no less effective considering his current films deal with more real people and their situations.
Cronenberg has really been exploring the relationships of his characters in his last few films, to a greater extent than he used to. Or perhaps his skill has developed to the point where these elements of his films seem to take a more prominent role. In either case, his films seem more human, the characters more vulnerable.
One such character is Nikolai, played by Viggo Mortensen. Mortensen's roles in each of Cronenberg's films are similar in one regard; each man has a streak of vulnerability. In "A History of Violence", it is much more noticeable. In "Eastern Promises", Nikolai is a tough guy, a `driver' who processes their victims to make sure they are unidentifiable. But there are moments when we become aware of his vulnerability. When he meets Anna, he tries to protect her from what he knows is about to happen. He realizes she is an honest person, a nice person, and doesn't belong in this world.
Nikolai's vulnerability is almost always revealed just before or just after an act of violence which helps to show why he is so good at what he does, why he is such a ferocious fighter, determined to win. He has to prove he is a tough guy, to stay in this crowd.
As the film continues, we begin to learn little things about Nikolai, making him a more complex character. Nikolai is very interested in becoming a soldier for this `family' and will do just about anything anyone tells him to. This means he has to listen to Kiril and follow his sometimes crazy, out of left field instructions. He also has to do whatever Semyon says, to prove he is a worthy addition to the family. But why is he so interested in joining this family?
Naomi Watts does a good job as Anna, the second generation Russian who is completely British. When she initially confronts this problem, she cares for the dead girl. But she goes beyond this, to try to help reunite her orphaned girl with family for more complex reasons. We learn she may have more in common with this girl, giving them a stronger bond, making her efforts more meaningful.
Anna lives with her mother (Sinead Cusack) who worries about her daughter's involvement with these people. She knows they are part of the Vory V Zakone brotherhood and her late husband related stories about their notorious deeds. Her brother-in-law, Stepan (Jerzy Skolimowski) is a more recent Russian immigrant and stays with them on a frequent basis. When he first learns of the diary, he takes a look through the pages and becomes horrified at what is described. He wants nothing to do with it. But then his interest gets the better of him. When he realizes whom the young lady was dealing with, he tries to protect Anna, as much as an old man can.
Armin Mueller- Stahl ("Avalon", "The Music Box", "Shine") plays Semyon, the head of this organized crime family. His ornate, elaborate restaurant is both a sanctuary and a place to hold court. Filled with rich red velvet, silver place settings, huge paintings and tapestries, it looks like a restaurant that has been around a long, long time. How else could it make any money? But it also looks like a festive place, a place for family celebrations and parties. Semyon is the head of this empire and he reflects all of these images as well. He is the benevolent host, the stern businessman, and the dangerous head of a criminal organization.
Mueller - Stahl is very good, perhaps Best Supporting Actor good. Semyon is a man of many faces and Mueller - Stahl is able to portray these in a way making his character both more realistic and more interesting. When he first meets Anna, we realize he is holding back information, trying to see what she has. When he realizes she has the young girl's diary, he tries to get it from her through friendly persuasion. He doesn't want to harm her. But we know he could. He simply wants to protect himself, his family and his `family'. And we recognize that he will do whatever is necessary to do this.
Semyon is the head of the organized crime family, but has to play ambassador to the other people in the family. He has to pay heed to what they want and need. But if Semyon wants something done. It gets done. Semyon is an interesting character because Mueller - Stahl is able to make all of the different facets of his character known, yet in a subtle way.
And Semyon has to deal with his son, Kiril. Played by Vincent Cassel ("Read My Lips", "Derailed"), Kiril is the least successful character. The most dramatic, he is also the most excitable, and can be seen as the most over dramatic. I get it. He is supposed to be immature, impulsive and insecure. But Cassel waves his arms around like a cartoon character. Kiril is over the top, but we also get it, a little, so this makes up for the over-the-top aspect, a little.
I have given a number of reasons in support of my claim that Cronenberg is one of the best filmmakers working today. Let me close with one last reason. As we watch "Eastern Promises", a sly shift in the narrative happens. Actually, there are a few. In the hands of a less accomplished filmmaker, these moments would simply fall apart and make us groan. In "Eastern Promises", they serve to excite the viewer of the possibilities. Naturally, to talk about either, and they are related, in a way, would spoil them. You shall have to experience them for yourselves.
Darrell | Dallas | 11/21/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I can't wait for this to come out on DVD. I saw it at the theater and so far it's the best movie of the year. I will be terribly dissapointed if it is not nominated for an Oscar for best picture, best actor, Viggo Mortensen, best supporting actor for both Armin Mueller-Stahl and Vincent Cassel, best director David Cronenberg. And maybe supporting actress, Naomi Watts. I'm suprised it's being release on DVD before the Acadamy Awards nominations or announced, thinking they would re-release it in theaters if it gets the nods it deserves."