Canadian film month continues on An Online Universe with a look at a film by one of Canada’s greatest film-makers, director David Cronenberg.
This review has kindly been written by Sydney critic/screen-writer/director, Chris Elena. Check out more of Chris’s writing at Can You Dig It?. Thanks very much for this review Chris! Check out Chris’s thoughts on Eastern Promises after the jump.
David Cronenberg might just be considered one of the greatest Canadian filmmakers of all time, why? Despite not ever being nominated for an Oscar or golden globe, his bravery and fascination for the bloody and depraved has earned him the greatest of respect with such gems including: The Fly, Naked Lunch, Crash (1996) and Videodrome. However it’s when he moved away from bugs, drugs and sexual fetishes that his films became just that little bit more….entertaining. He began his foray into more grounded narrative with A History of Violence starring Viggo Mortensen, yet it was his next film also starring Viggo that proved to be his most entertaining yet…
Eastern Promises stars Naomi Watts as Anna, a midwife living in London with her mother and Russian uncle who comes across a Pregnant Russian teenager on one of her shifts. The young girl dies during childbirth with her baby born safe and sound. Amongst the teen’s personal belongings is a diary, and although written in Russian, she attempts to have it translated. While in the process of seeking a translation, Anna gets caught up with the Russian mafia. Amongst the people she meets is Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) a driver and “cleaner” for Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) the head of the crime family in question and his rebellious, unpredictable son, Kirill (Vincent Cassel). Nikolai and Anna cross paths as she delves deeper to find the connection between the family and the recently deceased young girl, whilst Nikolai gets closer and closer to Semyon and Kirill in the most dangerous of ways.
Eastern Promises may be Cronenberg’s most plot-driven film yet, following the conventions of mystery and human drama more than ever, yet not once forgetting the value of entertainment despite the morose nature of the story being told. Having said all of this, there are one or two Cronenberg traits that can be found, most notably the amount of blood and carnage that accompany the heavier and uglier scenes in the film. Never has Cronenberg shied away from violence, and Eastern Promises only goes further to prove this.
The performances, especially Mortensen’s (his only Oscar nomination coming from this film) are stellar. A special mention should go out to Armin Mueller-Stahl who’s portrayal of a Russian mobster is grounded and authentic, despite the characters unpredictably ugly nature. The screenplay by Steve Knight (with uncredited re-writes from Cronenberg) is a rich and three-dimensional one, thus adding to Cronenberg’s superb direction.
If any qualms had to be found, Naomi Watts, although her performance is adequate, it pales in comparison to the rest of the cast who bring their all into just about every scene. Her scenes with her mother and uncle in the film don’t match the compelling moments shared by Kirill, Semyon and Nikolai, whose characters grow and develop as the film continues.
Although the film is set in London and contains a large focus on the Russian mafia, Eastern Promises will always be considered a Canadian film, due to Cronenberg. However no matter what country Eastern Promises is associated with it is still an incredibly compelling and entertaining piece of work from one of the great directors of our time, who goes places and introduces us to people very few of us would even dare imagine meeting or seeing for ourselves.
By Chris Elena.
Director: David Cronenberg
Writer(s): Steven Knight
Starring:Naomi Watts, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel
Runtime: 100 minutes