I've recently been on a bit of David Cronenberg kick. I started with A History of Violence then moved on to Eastern Promises as it is essentially a companion film to the former. After watching some of Cronenberg's earlier films such as The Fly and Videodrome it is interesting seeing the evolution the he has made as a director. Earlier in his career he liked to analyze the physical aspects of horror and violence with less emphasis on the psychological aspect but now it seems he has flipped his focus on that subject.
Eastern Promises is an utterly fascinating film that I think will likely take me a while to fully appreciate which has been the case with most Cronenberg films. It has the feeling of a much more conventional crime film than A History of Violence but still feels very fresh and unique.
The film tells the story of a midwife (Naomi Watts) at a hospital in London who delivers a baby whose mother dies during childbirth. She finds a journal written by the mother among the woman's personal belongings but is unable to read it as it is in Russian. She finds a card on the inside that leads her to a Restaurant owned by a major Russian Mob Boss (Armin Mueller-Stahl). The film weaves the story of the midwife searching for the relatives to take care of the baby with the story of this Russian Mob family and a driver for the Mob (Viggo Mortensen) who ascends to power.
This is a brooding Crime film that really explores the Russian Mob which is an area I have not seen explored in the genre before. One such interesting aspect was the significance of tattoos in the Russian Mob as they carry the life story of these mobsters. Not only does it explore interesting subjects but it also features some great acting. Viggo (very different looking in this!) gives a clearly great performance which he was nominated for Best Actor for and I think he is really what elevates this film from being a decent Crime movie to a great one.
The other aspect of what made this film great was David Cronenberg himself. His ability to make uncomfortable to watch fight scenes and truly realistic and ugly deaths is a rare skill. Specifically the infamous Bath House scene where Viggo is completely naked and fights off 2 mobsters armed with linoleum knives. Which brings up an interesting style choice that Cronenberg makes with this movie. There are no guns in the entire film, all kills are done with straight razors and knives which adds to the discomfort. While he is making more of a psychological analysis in this film he is still able to create those visually disturbing scenes which have been a staple in his films his entire career.
I don't want to give too much away about this film because I think everyone needs to see it. There are some interesting twists that happen that if I give away definitely ruin the movie. Suffice it to say though, Eastern Promises is an amazing film. It has a hypnotically brooding tone that makes it hard to turn away and just when you start to get bored it throws a shockingly violent and disturbing scene to get you back into it. So for anyone craving a good old violent mobster movie I encourage you to watch this one right now!
4 out of 5
-Chris "Da Franchize" Hart