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March 3, 2021
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Eastern Promises
(2007-09-27)
(wgvu) - David Cronenberg has always been a maverick director working beneath the surfaces of genre films, yet breaking from the fold of B Movie filmmakers by virtue of his daring imagination. He first made a name for himself around the world with a series of very smart horror movies that emerged in the late 70s and early 80s, with expressive titles, Shivers, Rabid, The Brood, Scanners, and Videdrome. He cracked Hollywood, with his 1986 remake of The Fly, starring Jeff Goldblum, that gave both director and actor a larger spotlight. It was with Dead Ringers, in 1988, that his more baroque literary style emerged, and he solidified that with a daring adaptation of William S. Burroughs cult novel Naked Lunch, in 1991. Following that, was M. Butterfly, and Crash, and if there were any naysayers who looked down their noses at Cronenberg as a horror director playing dilettante, those movies surely dashed that illusion. And after the internation hit A History of Violence I'm betting that most filmgoers have long forgotten Cronenberg's monster movie roots. Now comes Eastern Promises, a crime thriller that glimpses into the world of the Russian mafia in London. Naomi Watts plays Anna, a midwife who receives Tetiana, a 14 year old girl as a patient. She's been brutally beaten and raped, and dying on the operating table. Anna is able to save the girls baby, and finds her diary. It is in Russian, and holds a tattered card for a restaurant, which is owned by a prominent Russian patriarch, Semyon, played by Armin Mueller-Stahl. Anna visits the restaurant, seeking clues to Tetiana's family. She meets Semyon's chauffeur Nikolai who is played by Viggo Mortensen. (clip) Tetiana may have been mixed up with Kirill, Semyon's unstable son, who is played by Vincent Cassell, who is attached to Nikolai. (clip) Anna delivers a translation of the diary to Semyon, who unexpectedly visits her at her workplace. (clip) Anna becomes suspicious and when her Russian uncle translates the diary she begins to understand Tetiana's terrible situation, and she confronts Nikolai. (clip) Nikolai seems a contradiction, he is a mafia strong man, a tattooed member of the most dangerous crime family, but he is also protective of Anna. (clip) Eastern Promises builds towards a conclusion that is brutal and violent and yet rides on the compassion of a midwife and the emotions she stirs in the heart of murderer. Forces are in motion, and a gang war brews as the police close in. Cronenberg has made another movie in the mold of A History of Violence, but he invests Eastern Promises with a dingier, dirtier look. The performances are wonderful, Mortensen is almost unrecognizable, Watts gives her reliable all, Cassell is all over the map, and Mueller-Stahl fairly glows with charming malevolence. Cronenberg now makes monsters out of reality. © Copyright 2021, wgvu