Posted by: kfugrip | September 18, 2007

Ninety-two: Eastern Promises

I’m going to test a new format with this post.

Eastern Promises, directed by David Cronenberg, is one of the movies that is on my priority list for this fall/winter movie season. I watched it tonight after work, in the second row of a packed theater. It was the only theater playing the movie in the entire city. I believe the answer to this is that the film gets a wide release in the next couple of weeks.

Eastern Promises is the story of Anna (Naomi Watts), a midwife who delivers a little girl just before the mother dies. The mother, a fourteen year old Russian, has a diary that Anna takes to have translated by her uncle. The uncle refuses and Anna goes to the only address represented in the diary, a restaurant owned by a Russian mobster (Armin Mueller-Stahl). It is through this connection that she is plunged into the violent world of Vory V Zakone where she meets Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) and Kirill (Vincent Cassel).

What I liked: While the film is a rather conventional thriller by Cronenberg’s standards, he infuses it with a palpable sense of dread. The film is overflowing with interesting and believable performances, especially Watts and Mueller-Stahl. The disparate elements, voice-over from the dead girl’s diary, Watt’s character’s struggle to find a home for the baby, Mortensen’s rise through the ranks, and well integrated and nothing feels forced. The use of violence and how it is depicted was extreme and helped to set the movie apart from the caricatured attempts at similar stories, where the violence is glorified and does little to bring weight to the narrative.

Eastern Promises, and it’s depiction of violence, increases dread we feel for Anna. While it has an element of the grandeur to it, the violence is so visceral that it transcends the genre. In a typical crime movie the murders would distance me, even if they were well shot. Not so with the few violent scenes we see in this film. They are horrifying and stop you in your tracks. It’s very effective.

What I didn’t like: There are some moments that do not ring true. I will not spoil the movie but towards the end there are scenes that feel like movie cliches that were added to increase the audience’s sympathy for characters. I question whether that is necessary.

4 stars

eastern_promises_large_tiff.jpg

For those interested (my few readers) I am attempting to watch the following movies this fall/winter:

(in order of importance)

  1. There Will Be Blood by Paul Thomas Anderson
  2. No Country for Old Men by the Coen Brothers
  3. The Darjeeling Limited by Wes Anderson
  4. I’m Not There by Todd Haynes
  5. Lust, Caution by Ang Lee
  6. Margot at the Wedding by Noah Baumbach
  7. The Savages by Tamara Jenkins
  8. Southland Tales by Richard Kelly
  9. The Man From London by Bela Tarr
  10. Romance and Cigarettes by John Turturro
  11. We Own the Night by James Gray (which I worked on)
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Responses

  1. Can’t wait to see this one.

  2. Although not a perfect film, the film did an amazing job in recognizing how important symbols and iconography are to Slavs, as well as family (and the annoyances of some relations) and tradition.

    I think a special touch in this film is that it is set around the Christmas season.
    I think the importance of this is lost to most non Slavs, as well as the importance and “opulence” of family gatherings.

    Really an amazing film and as per review, the dropping of the typical Hollywood scenarios would have made it out of this world.

    The double eagle was an interesting motif as well.

  3. What do you mean ?


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