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Eastern Promises (2007)

by on 2012/08/26

“Ah, sentimental value. I’ve heard of that.”

* * *

I’d hoped to end a month of David Cronenberg movies by seeing Cosmopolis. Unfortunately, as no theaters in our area are playing his latest feature, I took Gru’s advice and tried one of her favourites, Eastern Promises. She offered a copy to me, but I found my own in a nearby store.

Oh how I long for the halcyon days of returning opened media.

Christmas in London, England, finds midwife Anna (Naomi Watts of Mulholland Drive) attending to a child prostitute. The fourteen year old dies in the hospital, survived by a baby girl. She also leaves behind an undecipherable diary, bookmarked with a Russian restaurant’s business card.

Anna visits the business in question, and arranges for its owner (The X-Files: Fight the Future’s Armin Mueller-Stahl) to translate the diary. By the time she realizes he’s fronting the local Russian Mafia, she’s in too deep for comfort, and hopes a chauffeur (A History of Violence’s Viggo Mortensen) can help her out.

It sure would be nice to tell you more, except the whole thing feels unfinished, with so many loose threads, it wants a sequel.

I’d like to mention my reluctance to see it was not based on being left dangling. I knew from what I’d heard it was very violent, a characteristic rarely drawing my attention. Still I thought I’d give it a chance, with its popular and critical acclaim. After all, I’ve been surprised before. (See Spider.)

Not so much here, I’m afraid.

Brutal from scene one, and periodically throughout, this piece is a study for viewers convinced organized crime is de facto cool. Drug addiction, mutilation, rape, sex slavery, and a matching set of deeply slitted throats. What is with the throat-slitting, and why do we linger so long on them? As I later commented to Gru, it’s not exploitative as such, but it sure does like to watch an awful lot.

Cronenberg’s brand of horror is often preposterous enough to be both suggestive and safely unbelievable. (See eXistenZ, The Fly, Naked Lunch, Scanners, and Videodrome.) By comparison, this production was grisly, which may be “realistic” anatomically and/or socially speaking, but is neither necessary nor enjoyable to the sound of mind.

Was I disappointed? Yes. I expected it to overturn my initial prejudice. On reflection I decided its most redeeming quality was to remind us slavery has yet to be abolished. As a movie, Eastern Promises is too well crafted to fail, yet offers little else to become truly great. I learned what I needed to, wasn’t entertained, and will likely not watch it again.

On further reflection, I probably should have borrowed that video.

* * *

Rated R

101 minutes

  1. Grushenka Geusebach permalink

    I gave a thumbs up only because your piece is written well. The ideas …are well, they are…I mean… it is just … booo!!! booooooo!!!! booooo!!!

  2. Hacker Renders permalink

    Well argued.

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