Sunday, November 04, 2007

Eastern Promises Review

Viggo Mortensen once again trades his dwarven-forged blade for a seedier path in his latest collaboration with director David Cronenberg, this time alongside Naomi Watts. Mortensen and Cronenberg last worked on A History of Violence a bit over two years ago, so its only natural to compare Eastern Promises to it, and overall while I found it a better film, it still ended on much the same note.

Naomi Watts plays Anna, an English nurse who helps deliver the baby of a poor Russian girl who dies in child birth, leaving behind a diary with the child. For personal reasons, Anna has taken the fate of this child very seriously, and wants to find the baby's family, however in order to do so, she'll need to translate the diary, which was written in the mother's native tongue.

Ultimately, Anna travels to the upscale Trans-Siberian Restaurant to enlist the aid of its proprietor, Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), and she quickly finds herself enmeshed with one of the most notorious crime families in London. Viggo Mortensen plays Nikolai, a "simple" driver and the protector of Semyon's son, Kirill (Vincent Cassel).

When all is said and done, I honestly found that Viggo's performance alone really carries the film. Nikolai is complex, fulling the obligations of his "family," but also possessing a conscience and certainly a great deal of charm. Without question he is the most interesting character to observe in the film, not just because he's the lead, but because he's often placed in such stark contrast with the others around him.

Take Anna for example. For most of the film, I was smacking my head wondering what the bloody hell she wash thinking, and why she was doing most of what she was doing. Granted I don't want to give much of the plot away, but I found her character much to intense and simply blind for her own good; hurt my disbelief a little.

And speaking of hurt, like A History of Violence, Eastern Promises is gory. The film starts off on such a gory note, actually, that it made me cringe. Me. The guy who has no problem cutting enemies in bloody two with a chainsaw in video games, or watching zombies consume living flesh in all forms of media. After that opening scene, the film certainly keeps up the gore, but it's used very well, always in context, and adds some nice shock value.

My only other major gripe with Eastern Promises was simply how it ended. Again, I'm not going to give it away, however I found that, like A History of Violence, it was quite anti-climatic and could have shown a little more, been a little more and left me feeling more satisfied. Essentially, it just sort of ends.

On a plus note, a short appearance by Alice Henley is worth mention, just because she's so damn gorgeous. She previously starred in a few episodes of Rome as Livia, the wife to Octavian who would become Caesar Augustus, the first Emperor of the newly formed Roman Empire. While she only appears briefly as a prostitute in Eastern Promises, it's nice to see she hasn't lost her sex appeal.

All in all, Eastern Promises is a great film, and a fine example of a genre that doesn't usually hold my attention. It features an interesting story, some nice, low-key effects, and brilliant acting. Worth a watch be it in theatres or on DVD once released.

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