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EASTERN PROMISES by David Cronenberg

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In the possessions of a young Russian girl who dies in childbirth, midwife Anna (Naomi Watts), herself the daughter of Russian immigrants, finds a diary written in Russian. Determined to find the next of kin of the baby, she asks her uncle Stepan (Jerzy Skolimowski) to translate the diary. The business card of a Russian restaurant in the diary leads her to restaurant owner Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), where she also meets his son Kirill (Vincent Cassel) and Kirill’s driver Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen). What Anna doesn’t know is that the friendly old Semyon is the head of a Russian mafia clan, and that the handsome but menacing Nikolai is much more than a mere driver.
Uncle Stepan, after translating the diary, begs Anna to forget about the diary and the family of the baby – the diary reveals the young mother of the baby girl was lured to London with false promises of a well-paid job as a singer, then raped by Semyon, hooked to heroin and forced to work as a prostitute. But Anna has already handed over photocopies of the diary to Semyon, who has promised to help look for the girl’s relatives, and now Semyon knows about the diary that contains evidence against him and the Russian mafia.

David Cronenberg doesn’t so much tell a story, but lets Anna/Naomi Watts and the audience take a brief glimpse into another world – the dangerous and violent world of the (Russian) mafia, where a strict code is being followed – and the punishment for breaking the code is death. In a world of crime, drugs, prostitution and rivaling clans, loyalty is much in demand, but no guarantee for a long life – a loyal henchman will be sacrificed as unscrupulously as any outsider threatening the safety of the mafia, and the subaltern is probably already scheming to take over the position of his boss. These are not people the average person is – or should be – in contact with, and Nikolai himself gives Anna the good advice “Stay away from people like me”.
And of course Cronenberg doesn’t shy away from showing the ugly side of this world and it’s violence – briefly, like in A History Of Violence, but shockingly intense and effective, as you would expect from the master of body horror.
The instantly classic fight sequence – Viggo Mortensen, nude in the bathhause, battles two armed killers – tops the Bourne-fights and is sure to set a new standard for action films.

The Performances by Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Vincent Cassel are top-notch, and even small supporting roles (notably Jerzy Skolimowski as Uncle Stepan) are casted nothing less than superb, but Eastern Promises is definitly Viggo Mortensen’s film, arguably with a career-best performance as menacing driver/undertaker with a hidden agenda.

Eastern Promises - Naomi Watts and Viggo Mortensen  Naomi Watts and Vincent Cassel - Eastern Promises 


Eastern Promises Movie Trailer

2 Responses to “EASTERN PROMISES by David Cronenberg”

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