a critiQal film review Eastern Promises (2007)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: When a London midwife (Watts) searches for a newborn baby's relatives after it's 14-year-old mother dies, she unwittingly stumbles into the midst of a Russian crime family operating out of London.

588 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 56s)

The previews for Eastern Promises had intrigued me back when the film hit theaters back in September. The Lord Of The Rings Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) going gangster with style in a film that also included King Kong‘s newest love interest, Naomi Watts? Sounded like it could be good.

Time passed, however, and I forgot about the film…until Viggo was nominated for both a Golden Globe® and an Academy Award®. Suddenly, my interest was rekindled, and I moved Eastern Promises to the top of our Blockbuster.com movie queue. But would the film live up to it’s recent praise, or would it be 2007’s version of – all hype and no real watchability?

Viggo Mortensen is impressive in Eastern Promises as a Russian gangster. He manages to bring both a hard edge one would expect in a gangster and a softer side that peeks out every once in awhile. This isn’t just another role for Viggo, and he makes that perfectly clear in every scene he’s in. He gives the character a lot more depth and humanity than one would expect, and delivers a performance that far outshines his Lord Of The Rings breakthrough stint.

Naomi Watts seems a bit out of place in a film filled with Russians, but that only helps to enhance the fish-out-of-water feel the director is aiming for with her character. Her character is, if not totally naive, at the very least incredibly innocent in comparison to the Russians around her. This innocence is largely refreshing in the dark world these criminals inhabit – but iit’s also a weakness that is easily exploited. While at first Naomi seems miscast, she fits in more and more as the film plays out, and turns in a pretty good performance herself.

And what mob movie is complete without a mob boss? Going for genial understatement rather than outright viciousness, Armin Mueller-Stahl plays a subdued mob boss in Eastern Promises. Incredibly non-threatening, he seems to be just the nice elderly gentleman he seems to be – until he starts doling out the assignments. It’s a rather understated performance, but works well.

The plot is, at times, a bit confusing. As the film never actually states it’s taking place in London, the viewer may be a bit confused as to the locale of the film. With most of the characters speaking at least some Russian, the viewer may originally incorrectly assume the film is taking place in Russia – and then has a hard time understanding what Watts’ British persona is doing smack dab in the middle of it. As the film progresses, the viewer gradually gets the idea that the film is actually taking place in London – but that first confusion has already caused them to slightly mistrust the film as a whole.

Still, David Cronenberg is able to take a mob story, cover it in realistic tattoos, and turn it into something that seems fresh and original. Definitely more of a gangster drama than the bloody action epic viewers may be looking for, Eastern Promises takes some very good performances (led by Viggo) and uses them to give viewers an inside glimpse into the lesser-known Russian mob subculture that is now a part of London as much as Big Ben or Parliament – just not as visible to the casual observer.

Worth a look if you’re looking for more of a gangster drama/art house film – and don’t mind reading subtitles –Eastern Promises does a good job of delivering on most of it’s Promises.

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