Eastern Promises

A 21st Century Gangster Classic, 18 June 2009

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

Director David Cronenberg has laid down a bloody marker for 21st Century Crime Thrillers with this visceral atmospheric work which ranks amongst his finest. Set in London, but played out almost exclusively amongst the Russian Underworld, “Eastern Promises” takes several brave risks, but wins them all.

Although set in the Capital, boldly most of the recognisable landmarks are absent save for a long shot of Tower Bridge. This , when combined with the frequent use of Russian, creates an insular, claustrophobic feel, the trademark of close knit ex patriot communities. The actors are mainly Europea,n adding to the sense of an alien culture playing out on familiar turf.

Cronenberg’s prowess in offering sudden antiseptic, clinical violence is viciously on show here, none more so than in a savage confrontation in a bath house which is as horrific in its realism as I have ever seen displayed on the screen. There is an amorality about the violence which is depicted which is as disturbing as the violence itself.

Viggo Mortensen excels as enigmatic driver Nikolai, Armin Mueller-Stahl offers a wonderful Godfather role as Semyon, oozing charm and cruel malevolence in equal measure whilst Naomi Watts, as Midwife Amy, provides far more than a bit of glamour as she pulls the bloody strands of people smuggling together. The beautiful rich cinematography belies the raw grittiness of its subject matter in a tightly scripted and fast paced ninety minutes. My only criticism is a strangely twee final few frames when a bleaker ending might have been more in keeping with what had gone before. Nonetheless the film is an absolute tour de force.

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