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Eastern Promises (2007)

by on 2010/03/14

Who needs heads that explode a la Scanners (1981) when you have reality? Real life is intensely frightening all by itself – as director David Cronenberg proves time and again in his recent films.

This rich portrayal of the Russian mob in London begins with a pregnant 14-year-old and a secret diary. Midwife Anna Khabarovsk (Naomi Watts) begins the search for the teenager’s family when the girl dies in childbirth, leaving behind an infant daughter and a raft of deadly secrets.

Like any good mob movie, this gorgeous, brutal movie deals in contrasts. The Russian mob boss teaches his adolescent granddaughters how to play the violin “to make the wood (vood) cry” one moment, then viciously kicks his drunken son the next. This movie tells a tale of complex family dynamics that belongs alongside other classic mob movies like the Godfather (1972) and Miller’s Crossing ( 1990).

Viggo Mortensen is almost unrecognizable in this portray of Nikolai, chauffeur and “undertaker” to the Russian mob. Nikolai has moments of incredible decency and horrific brutality – a characterization that is as involved as the movie itself.

Visually gorgeous and brilliantly filmed, much of the action centers around a dark and opulent Russian restaurant. The borscht looks blood, the caviar like glimmering little gems. The Russian mob tattoos, marks of the gangsters’ status within the organization and designed to tell life stories, become a kind additional poetic language of the film.

I adore this series of films horror director David Cronenberg has created with Viggo Mortensen (Lord of the Rings) kicking off with History of Violence (2005) – a movie I’ve probably seen at least 5 times.

It should be said that no films today do violence like Cronenberg and Mortensen do violence. This mature drama doesn’t let you forget Cronenberg’s roots in shock horror and gore. You haven’t seen a throat cut until you’ve seen this movie. The fight scene in the bath house makes the bathroom fight scene in Casino Royale (2006) look like a Saturday morning with the Smurfs.

This movie is bloody brilliant. I give it 5 stars out of a possible 5.

See it.

* * * * *

Rated R for adult situations, violence.

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