Blu-ray Review: Eastern Promises

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Release date: October 14th, 2008
MSRP: $29.98

Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Viggo Mortenson

I have mentioned this before, but once upon a time I had little use of director David Cronenberg. What a difference a couple of years makes. After seeing A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, I can safely say I have drunk the Cronenberg kool-aid and it is damn tasty!

So when Universal announced the release of EA on Blu-ray, I was pleased to have an excuse to revisit it. It may sound odd to need an excuse, but the review pile here at Crimespree Cinema HQ is frighteningly large. Should it tip, lives could be lost.

Eastern Promises is a powerful character drama that steps in the world of the Russian Mafia in London.

Naomi Watts is Anna. Anna, a midwife, delivers a baby to a dying teenager. In the deceased mother’s bag is a diary as well as the card of a Russian restaurant. Looking for info about the girl, Anna goes to the restaurant and talks to the owner, a kind grandfatherly figure named Semyon (wonderfully portrayed by Oscar nominee Armin Mueller-Stahl). He informs her that he does not recognize the picture of the girl. That is that until Anna mentions finding a diary. There is something chilling about his seemingly casual reaction to this news.

Viggo Mortenson is Nikolai, a chauffeur for Semyon, who develops a sort of connection with Anna. Viggo is amazing here. He delivers much with body language and facial expressions. There is a scene, in a bathhouse, in which he battles armed thugs completely nude. We all have had unsettling dreams about being naked, but rarely with armed men trying to kill us. Well…at least I have not. If you have, you might want to lay off the late night snacks and maybe see a therapist.

While this is indeed a mystery, it is also a fascinating look into the Russian mafia. I heard somebody compare it to the Godfather and that is not completely inaccurate. It does show us the workings of said crime organization in a sort of detached manner.

Eastern Promises is a mesmerizing film that will knock you back, then help you up. Cronenberg never passes judgment on his characters; he leaves that for the audience. This is something that many other directors could learn from him. I never felt preached to, or that I was being manipulated into feeling a certain way. It is as though he has faith in the audience and allows us to react as we see fit.

Folks with delicate sensibilities should probably avoid this film, but this incredible film will likely delight anyone looking for a well-made intelligent crime film.

The HD presentation looks good, with a 1.85:1 presentation using the VC-1 codec. While much of the film is drab looking, there are some nice moments where the colors really jump. The restaurant scenes look quite lovely.

As far as the audio goes, everything sounds fine. I can’t really find anything that stands out as being noticeably better than the dvd release, but this is a film that is more focused on dialogue than explosions and loud sound effects.

Extras:
Secrets and Stories We get the story behind the film as well as some comments on the Russian mafia in London. Interesting, but I think they could have done a much longer, more in-depth piece. Marked for Life talks about the tattoos of the Russian Mob, with some interesting comments from Viggo. One other piece of note is 2 Guys Walk into a Bath House. This two-minute piece gives us a look at the infamous fight scene.

I would have dearly loved a commentary track, but sadly none is provided.

Upon revisiting Eastern Promises, I can honestly say this is a film that can be watched again and again. Cronenberg has crafted an impressive character driven drama that will certainly stand the test of time.

Order the Blu-ray of Eastern Promises from Amazon.

Jeremy Lynch
For more reviews from myself, and the rest of the Crimespree crew, check out the index of reviews.