Eastern Promises

Eastern Promises

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Beyond the Surface of Eastern Promises

Oct 8, 2007 (Updated Oct 8, 2007)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Bang For The Buck

Pros:Direction, Performances, Script, Cinematography, Meaningful use of violence

Cons:I think I may have wanted a little more from the ending.

The Bottom Line: Eastern Promises is an R-rated film for mature theater audiences. It's a perceptive look into the intertwining lives of it's characters.


On the surface Eastern Promises is a story about Midwife Anna (Naomi Watts), the dead Russian girl Tatiana (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse, voice over by Tatiana Maslany), Russian mobster Kirill (Vincent Cassel), and his mysterious driver Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen). Tatiana is brought to Anna’s ward hemorrhaging, her baby in distress. Anna look’s into the girl’s purse to find identification and instead finds a small diary. As the infant Christine is gently brought to life, Tatiana slips away from it. In an effort to locate Tatiana’s family, Anna takes the diary to her Russian uncle for translation. She also ventures into a Russian restaurant whose business card was tucked away in the diary.

Sometimes the secrets of the dead are best buried with them.

Through Anna’s efforts to translate Tatiana’s diary, two worlds that were never meant to meet collide. Middle class, normal, London is exposed to the dark corruption of the Russian mob, the Vory V Zekone.

Anna who was never meant to meet Nikolai, never meant to know what secrets are hidden behind some doors, is exposed to a dangerous desire. Exactly what it is that Anna desires however is not a simple thing. This is not a simple answer of lust. Is it a desire for Nikolai, a man who exudes sexuality impossible for any woman to ignore (including the ones sitting in the theater)? Is it a maternal desire to protect the baby Christine?

It is a desire for all of the things Anna has longed for, the things that have remained just out of reach, the things that have slipped painfully through her fingers. Anna’s wide green eyes betray all of her thoughts, she is vulnerable yet strong, passionate, and every feeling she has is there in her eyes for Nikolai to see.

By contrast, who is Nikolai? Where has he come from? What is he trying to accomplish? Whose side is he on? Some of those questions are answered, some never are. While Anna keeps no secrets, secrets are all Nikolai has. The plot may not hold many surprises, there are many developments that are easy to see coming, but the story is layered and thick. While we are given one answer, supplied certain information, there are other more subtle points that remain ambiguous. We may eventually learn what exactly Nikolai’s goal is, but he still keeps his soul hidden from us. We are let in only so much.

Eastern Promises is on the surface a violent crime thriller about the Russian mob in London. However, like the currents of the Thames, Eastern Promises reveals secrets that were never meant to stay hidden. Nikolai hides a body in the river; David Cronenberg hides more behind the blood.

This is a film for adults. There is violence, there is blood, there is sex, there are drugs. These things are not there to exploit, they are not there to titillate. David Cronenberg has created a film for a mature audience who can watch a violent fight between three men in a bathhouse and see that there is a point for the inclusion Mortenson’s naked body. Cronenberg has never been afraid of the elements that offend, has never shied away from the things that make us uncomfortable. He instead embraces them. If something creates such a passionate response in an audience, if an exposed breast or a slit throat catches people’s notice, then their use can have a powerful effect.

Cronenberg has often explored the relationship between the media and sex and violence. Until recently, he has existed on the fringes of the mainstream. He was more of a cult figure. With the success of A History of Violence and his collaboration with Viggo Mortenson, Cronenberg has come fully into the mainstream of filmmaking. Whether the mainstream is ready to fully accept him… that I cannot tell you. I’m personally pleased to see films that are created for the intelligent, thinking, adult audience.

Why is Eastern Promises such a great film? It is because of the violence. It is because of the depth. It is also because of David Cronenberg’s complete awareness of his medium and the talent that he works with. Cronenberg's direction and Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts's performances are combined with Steve Knight's script, Peter Suschitzky's cinematography, and Howard Shore's score. From the story telling to the cinematography to the score, every element of Eastern Promises relates to the others. They all compliment when they need to compliment and contrast when contrast is needed. Light is juxtaposed with dark, quiet with noise, passion with passion, love with duty. Eastern Promises is about family, it is about destruction and rebirth, it is about the violence of death and how that violence can give way to new life.

Eastern Promises is a film that, if we want, we can sit back and process as we would any other movie. We can watch the images, see the surface, and go home satisfied. Eastern Promises is also a film that we can read. We can actually see what is on the screen in front of us; actually hear what the characters are saying. Cronenberg gives us a film that means something and invites us to discover what that meaning is.

There is an idea. There is passion. There is art.

And since this is October and I did rate this flick 5-Stars (although honestly I think it might be a bit closer to 4 1/2), I'm throwing it in with captaind's October Good Movies Write Off. Cool.


Recommend this product? Yes

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