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September 2007

By Wilson Morales



Distributor: Focus Features
Director: David Cronenberg
Screenwriter: Steve Knight
Cast: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Donald Sumpter, Jerzy Skolimowski, Naomi Watts, Sinead Cusack, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel
Rating: R (for strong brutal and bloody violence, some graphic sexuality, language and nudity)


No one can execute violence on the big screen like David Cronenberg. We’re not talking about the usual bang-em-up, shoot-em-up scenes we’ve seen countless times where they become boring as body count adds up. If you happen to see his last film, “A History of Violence”, which starred his current muse, Viggo Mortensen, Cronenberg built a level of intrigue while Mortensen’s role was anything but mundane. In his current film, “Eastern Promises”, Cronenberg revisits the mafia world but this time from overseas as the setting takes place in Eastern Europe. Not only does Mortensen talk with a brilliant Russian accent, but his performance as well as the rest of the cast makes this film must-see, thrill ride. It’s certainly one of Cronenberg’s finest films in recent years.

Right from the start, the film starts off with someone being told to slash a man’s throat in a barbershop. Talk about bloodshed! We then meet a midwife named Anna who delivers a baby from a 14 year-old during the winter holidays. The young mother would die after birth but before Anna receives her diary, which is written in Russian. Anna’s an American, but her father was Russian, so she goes to her eccentric uncle to see if he could help translate it for her to see if any relatives are mentioned so she could contact them about the baby. Initially reluctant to do so, because he believes in the privacy of others, he gives it a shot, while Anna follows up on a lead that was left in the diary, a business card to a Russian restaurant. The restaurant happens to be owned by Semyon, who is head of London's most notorious organized crime families of Eastern European origin. Underneath Semyon is his volatile son and enforcer, Kirill (Cassel) and Kirill’s right-hand man, Nikolai Luzhin (Mortensen), who works as the family driver.

As Anna digs deeper in the dead mother’s past, Nikolai is there to both protect her and as well as the interests of the family he protects. When Kirill’s stupid deeds puts his life in danger, Semyon is there to protect him as always and sets things in motion that not only put Nikolai’s life at risk but Anna’s well.

To say more would ruin the surprises that Cronenberg has brilliantly placed for the film. Steven Knight, wrote the underbelly film “Dirty Pretty Things”, which focused on illegal immigrants, has written another superb crime thriller about the mafia world and the sex trafficking business. Armin Mueller-Stahl brings in a charming yet menacing performance, while Watts is terrific as the woman looking to find closure to her curiosity. With Mortensen, what you get out of him is another subtle, yet refined performance that speaks volumes. The scene is which everyone will talk about is the bathroom scene where nudity and gores of blood are fully placed. Not only does it add to the intensity of the film, but it strengthens the momentum the film builds. When one is watching a Cronenberg film, there’s a certain gray area that’s explored and one never knows which side to stay on, but it makes fun to watch to see how the film plays out.