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Eastern Promises

Critic's Pick Critics' Pick

(No longer in theaters)
  • Rating: R — for strong brutal and bloody violence, some graphic sexuality, language and nudity
  • Director: David Cronenberg   Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Sinéad Cusack
  • Running Time: 100 minutes
  • Reader Rating:

    9 out of 10

      |  

    1 Reviews | Write a Review

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Genre

Suspense/Thriller

Producer

Paul Webster, Robert Lantos

Distributor

Focus Features

Release Date

Sep 21, 2007

Release Notes

Nationwide

Official Website

Review

Fresh from their startling (if overpraised) and unbelievably brutal crime melodrama A History of Violence, David Cronenberg has reteamed with Viggo Mortensen for the startling and unbelievably brutal crime melodrama Eastern Promises. Mortensen again plays a man who is purposefully unreadable—the Russian driver for London-based Eastern European mobsters and a pal of the boss’s volatile son (Vincent Cassel). This time, his blonde co-star is Naomi Watts as a nurse-midwife who watches a pregnant 14-year-old Russian prostitute hemorrhage to death on the operating table and heads off with her diary in search of a translator. Wouldn’t you know she takes it to the absolute wrong person—the boss (Armin Mueller-Stahl) of the crime family that turns Eastern European girls into sex slaves? Will the ostensibly amoral Mortensen be her rescuer or assassin?

Mortensen is good in a role like this—a man who uses his chiseled, blue-eyed, dimpled handsomeness as a mask to hide his thoughts. It’s hard to know what else he might bring to a part—although when I first saw him, in a small role as a paraplegic in Carlito’s Way, I thought he’d be a major actor. His character here is nowhere near as layered as in A History of Violence, and neither is the movie. It’s engrossing, and Mueller-Stahl’s mix of Old World chivalry and murderousness is scarier than Jason and Freddy combined. But Eastern Promises is finally conventional, even sentimental—or as sentimental as a film in which a knife gets driven through someone’s eyeball into his brain in a gruelingly extended medium close-up can be. There’s nothing comparable to the mirror-image sex scenes between Mortensen and Maria Bello that anchored History—only a lot of Watts trudging back and forth with that damn diary-McGuffin.

The big gore set piece will get people buzzing, though. For his last film, Cronenberg brought something new to the fights: Mortensen didn’t just move faster than his antagonists; he came in way close and butted their heads and smashed their Adam’s apples and mashed their noses into their faces. He does all that here, too, but in a steam bath minus a towel. Cronenberg doesn’t just deliver bravura stabbing and bone-snappings and eye-gougings; he manages to keep the Mortensen-pickle shots to a minimum—and get his “R” rating. We wouldn’t want anything to upset the kids!

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