Saturday, 19 September 2020
Eastern Promises
Written by Sandra Fitzpatrick   
Wednesday, 26 September 2007 00:00
There is a reason that Eastern Promises won the top prize at the Toronto International Film Festival. It lives up to its ‘promise’ of being one of the best films of the year, deserving of the praise it has received on the festival circuit.

Director David Cronenburg might be best known for his horror flicks but the stories he tells have something in common besides the blood and gore. They all delve into the psyche and examine the human side of darkness. In Eastern Promises that darkness takes on a less supernatural and more corporeal form examining the intimate world of a Russian mafia family in London.

The film opens with blood being spilled, which seems fitting because blood is spilled liberally throughout. This is not a movie for the squeamish! A woman walks into a pharmacy begging for help, blood streaming down her legs. She is rushed to hospital and dies in childbirth while the midwife looks on, setting the stage for all the events to come. The baby needs a family and Anna (Naomi Watts) makes it her personal duty to find the closest living relative, but with only a diary to go by the task seems daunting. Her need to have the diary translated brings her unaware to the door of the most fearsome crime family in London.

The characters are definitely what makes this film special, and Viggo Mortensen is the key player. He plays Nikolai, a stone-faced “driver” who earns the trust of the kingpin by taking care of the grizzliest jobs. After his formidable performance in another Cronenburg film, A History of Violence, we knew he was a force to be reckoned with. But this performance is in a league of its own, requiring Mortensen to do a lengthy fight scene entirely nude. How difficult this must have been I can only imagine, but he tackles it admirably, making it one of the most intense and visceral scenes in the movie.

The other man to watch is Vincent Cassel as Kirill, the so-called prince of the crime family. His manic performance runs through every emotion imaginable, creating a character that is as pitiful as he is despicable.

Naomi Watts is luminous as usual, and perfectly cast as a smart young woman driven by emotions. Although her character gets in over her head, she struggles to stay afloat in the figurative sea of sharks. The stoic support of her elderly mother and uncle helps give perspective to the danger she places herself and her family in.

I don’t want to give away any more of the story, because I think it’s best to go in knowing nothing. This movie is full of little secrets and is a lot more fun if you discover them one by one.

You can bet you will see Eastern Promises on my Top Ten of the year, and probably at the award shows as well. It is truly a well-crafted film that has style and substance to match. I give it a 9 out of 10.