DVD Review: Eastern Promises

Until about a year ago, I had little use for David Cronenberg. His stuff was simply not my cup of tea. That was until A History of Violence blew me away. That film showed me that there was a lot more to Cronenberg than I had thought. He proved a real skill for filming violence without seeming gratuitous. Brutal? Yes. Extreme? Yes, but not gratuitous.

Eastern Promises continues what Cronenberg started with AHoV. It shows us a world of grey where violence is simply part of the world around us.

Naomi Watts is Anna. Anna, a midwife, delivers a baby to a dying teenager. In the deceased mother’s bag is a diary and 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 Mr. Cronenberg has faith in the audience and allows us to react as we see fit.

The extras are pretty damn lean on EP. Two featurettes that, while interesting, fail to do the film justice.

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.

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