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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Eastern Promises

****½ Eastern Promises. Drama.

Directed by: David Cronenberg.
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl

I saw this with Carl at the Hercules.

Anna (Naomi Watts) is a midwife who gets involved when she delivers a baby to a young teenager who dies. Nobody else seems concerned, so she takes the girl's diary, intending to find her family. The diary is in Russian, so the logical choice seems to be to ask her Russian uncle Stepan (Jerzy Skolimowski) to translate it. He refuses, so she takes it to restaurant owner Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who turns out to be the local head of the Russian mob.

Viggo Mortensen is Nikolai, trying to move up in the mob, currently playing bodyguard/babysitter to Semyon's son Kirill (Vincent Cassel). He's cold and hard and capable of extreme violence, but he still has some compassion and a conscience.

Eastern Promises earns its R-rating. It's violent and graphic (it tells you something when there's a nude fighting scene and all I remember is the gore), and made me cringe and close my eyes several times. But it was also absolutely engrossing. All the performances were amazing: Mortensen was great as someone forced into a life he wouldn't have chosen but determined to succeed nevertheless. Mueller-Stahl was chilling as the affable grandfather who was also utterly ruthless and conscienceless. Cassel was utterly convincing as the spoiled heir-apparent, trying to hide his homosexuality by being sporadically ultra-violent, and reacting to his father's disappointment by being a screwup. Watts is understated but realistic as the do-good midwife, and thankfully isn't quite so stubbornly do-good that she's stupid about it.

This wasn't a relaxing movie, by any means, nor a feel-good one, but it was an impressive and satisfying one, a real rollercoaster ride of tension and drama, and I felt almost physically drained at the end. I wonder if that's how horror fans feel after a horror movie?

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Can't wait to see this one myself. But knowing how it will feel to watch it, I have to wait until I can take it. But I know I'm going to love it.
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