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Eastern Promises [Blu-ray]
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Thriller set among the Russian mafia in London from Canadian director David Cronenberg. Nikolai Luzhin (Viggo Mortensen) is a driver for one of London's organized crime families who are part of the notorious Vory V Zakone criminal brotherhood. The family is headed by Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a cold and brutal man who hides his true nature behind his public role as a charming restaurateur and his volatile son and enforcer, Kirill (Vincent Cassell), is Nikolai's closest friend. Nikolai's carefully maintained existence is threatened when he meets Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts), a midwife at a North London hospital who has been deeply affected by the plight of a teenager (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse) who died giving birth. The girl left behind a diary written in Russian in which Anna seeks the answers to the baby's lineage. By delving into the diary, Anna has accidentally unleashed the full fury of the Vory. With Semyon and Kirill closing ranks and Anna pressing her inquiries - Nikolai finds his loyalties divided. Lives hang in the balance as a disturbing chain of murder and revenge reverberates through the darkest corners of both the family and London itself.
David Cronenberg's signature obsessions flower in Eastern Promises, a stunning look at violence, responsibility, and skin. Near Christmas time in London, a baby is born to a teenage junkie--an event that leads a midwife (Naomi Watts) into the world of the Russian mob. Central to this world is an ambitious enforcer (Viggo Mortensen) who's lately buddied up with the reckless son (Vincent Cassel) of a mob boss (Armin Mueller-Stahl, doing his benign-sinister thing). Screenwriter Steve Knight also wrote Dirty Pretty Things, and in some ways this is a companion piece to that film, though utterly different in style. The plot is classical to the point of being familiar, but Cronenberg doesn't allow anything to become sentimental; he and his peerless cinematographer Peter Suschitzky take a cool, controlled approach to this story. Because of that, when the movie erupts in its (relatively brief) violence, it's genuinely shocking. Cronenberg really puts the viewer through it, as though to shame the easy purveyors of pulp violence--nobody will cheer when the blood runs in this film. Still, Eastern Promises has a furtive humour, nicely conveyed in Viggo Mortensen's highly original performance. Covered in tattoos, his body a scroll depicting his personal history of violence, Mortensen conveys a subtle blend of resolve and lost-ness. He's a true, haunting mystery man. --Robert Horton, Amazon.comStills from Eastern Promises (click for larger image). Photos by Peter Mountain.
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Top Customer Reviews
In 'Eastern Promises', Vigo Mortensen's menacing Russian Mafia goonda Nikolai's body is heavily marked by the 'vory v zakone' tattoos that tell a story of a life in crime. Cronenberg films these marks as dark, almost cancerous stains, which is redolent of his earlier works such as The Fly. The violence is again unflinchingly visceral, in particular in a centre-piece fight in which a naked Nikolai fends off a knife attack in a Turkish bath. The vivid lacerations of the skin force the the viewer to confront their debilitating physical impact. Imagine if Cronenberg had filmed Reservoir Dogs, he certainly would not have spared us Mr Blonde's severing of the cop's ear, but rather given it a close up.
'Eastern Promises' begins with a hemorrhaging fourteen-year-old Ukranian prostitute dying in childbirth. The baby survives, but its violent eruption also suggests that hallmark of the 'body horror' genre, the alien bursting from the stomach in Ridley Scott's classic. The fact that the baby is the product of rape on a virgin compounds this notion of the physical contamination.Read more ›
When a Russian teenager dies in childbirth, midwife Anna Khitrova (Watts) tries to seek out any relatives so that the baby will not be put into the foster care system. Following leads written in the dead girl's harrowing diary, Anna is led to mysterious Russian chauffeur Nikolai Luzhin (Mortensen) and the underworld of the Russian Mafia.
After the critical and box office success of A History of Violence in 2005, it was no surprise to see director Cronenberg and lead man Mortensen team up again for another violent thriller. Perhaps less surprising is that it's equally as great, more proof positive that even when the great director goes mainstream he's still making powder-keg cinema.
Set in London, a seamy London at that, Eastern Promises takes a look at a criminal underworld thriving beneath the city's glossy veneer. This isn't about the rat-a-tat of machine guns, this is slow and methodical criminality, where all roads lead to pain and misery for anyone not in league with, or on the wrong side of, the Vory V Zakone. Cronenberg never lets the film go up a pace, which is absolutely to the film's benefit, even as violence is rendered, and body horror (hey this is Cronenberg after all) comes our way, it's cloaked in a controlled melancholy that just pulses with sinister beats.
Steven Knight's screenplay has a few tricks up its sleeve, not only on revelation terms, but also thematically as loyalty and family dynamics come under the microscope.Read more ›
Vincent Cassel (Kirill) and Armin Mueller-Stahl (Semyon) are also extremely convincing, the former as a violent drunk and the latter as the charming and affable, but very cruel father. Naomi Watts doesn't light up the screen and steal the show as she normally does, but it could be the depressing role of Anna, a midwife who delivers a baby for a fourteen year old girl who doesn't make it off the operating table.
Anne Frank may have left a more famous diary, but the diary of the unfortunate young woman is so revealing that some people are prepared to kill to keep the contents from being brought to light.
Fascinating in some aspects, such as the story behind the tattoos, and graphic in quite a few others, including a memorable scene with a totally nude Viggo battling against guys with linoleum knives, I found some parts a bit too long and drawn out, and some too predictable.
Never-the-less, the acting, the casting and the intensity of this drama make it extremely watchable (if you like this movie genre), and although it isn't going to be one of my favorite movies, it certainly is worth mentioning here.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Brought this with high expectations but was disappointed, acting was pretty good but overall was quite boringPublished 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
For me it is Vincent Cassel who excels in this film. Very good film indeed, violence a bit too much for me especially when you can hear "crunching", but the violence is... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Anna Cottage
Little gem, great script, fine cast, could be Mortensen's finest hour.Published 3 months ago by aidanofthenorth
He was just so convincing.
He hardly spoke but commanded your attention, and his hair was just spot on.