Plot: A young woman dies and her baby survives during pregnancy. This leads a nurse (Naomi Watts) to track down her family, using a diary left behind. But the young woman has ties to one of London’s most powerful Russian mobs. The family’s driver (Viggo Mortensen) is called upon to take care of the nurse’s inquires.
Who’s it for: If you want a mafia-type movie with the appropriate amount of violence, in a slow and steady paced drama, then “Eastern Promises” is for you. Keep in mind, there isn’t a huge body count, but you squirm when a knife is pulled.
Expectations: I wasn’t enamored with “A History of Violence” like most critics. Because this was the same team of David Cronenberg directing and Mortensen acting, I wasn’t that excited.
Naomi Watts as Anna: We don’t know much about Anna, except that she lost a child during birth, and that’s enough for me. I love that I thought I was following her journey, but it turns out I was on Nikolai’s.
Viggo Mortensen as Nikolai: I always forget how good Mortensen can be. He’s much more than Aragon. Here, he has a flawless Russian accent, a body coated in tattoos and an insane amount of bravado. It’s difficult to root for someone once they cut off someone’s fingers, but Mortensen pulls it off. Plus, if you’ve ever been curious what he looks like naked, here’s your chance.
Armin Mueller-Stahl as Semyon: Though he’s been in plenty of films, this is his most substantial role. One minute, he is a caring grandfather, but with barely a change he suddenly turns into the violent, imposing leader that he is.
Talking: There are some Russian subtitles, but the lines are kept short so you never feel like you’re missing moments reading the screen. One of the only distracting moments of the film was when a young Russian was narrating the diary.
Sights and sounds: This is the best, most uncomfortable steam room scene since Jason Patric in “Your Friends & Neighbors.” Nikolai struggles in a long knife fight, which should sit with you as one of the most memorable scenes in 2007.
For me, having lowered expectations was perfect. This is my favorite David Cronenberg film to date. There are fantastic performances like Vincent Cassel, as the son of the Russian head, who constantly longs for his father’s approval, messing up the whole time. But the film belongs to Viggo Mortensen, his tattoos and the bathhouse knife fight. Cronenberg is always willing to push just a little farther than other directors, and he makes sure you feel the violence in “Eastern Promises,” I promise.
Overall Grade: 9