Eastern Promises (2007)

A few weeks back, the theme for Thursday Movie Picks —a series hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves— was gangsters and David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises was one of the most popular titles. Since I like Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen (and his full-frontal nudity), I checked it out.

The film revolves around the London Russian mafia and centres around the death of Tatiana (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse), a fourteen-year-old girl who died in childbirth. Midwife Anna (Naomi Watts) finds her diary and decides to find the girl's family so that the newborn can live with them. She asks her Russian uncle (Jerzy Skolimowski) to translate the diary for her; in the meantime, she follows the trail of a business card found in the diary, and she winds up at a Russian restaurant owned by Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) who promises to help her to translate the diary from Russian to English. Little does she knows Semyon is the mob's leader and his family is involved in Tatiana's death. 

It's a very thin, simple and predictable plot so much so that you can predict what is going to happen next for most of the film's running time. The twists aren't twists as we are told about them when convenient instead of being shown them. The ending, easily the worst part of it, just doesn't feel right with the rest of the story and was a huge let down. 

The plot, however, isn't that important in Eastern Promises as Cronenberg is far more interested in the characters than he is in telling a memorable story, and he does a wonderful job at creating believable characters the viewers care about —whether they are good or evil, likeable or not, they are living and breathing beings and as such we connect with them. Naomi Watts's Anna is too naive and clichéd though. 

By far the most compelling aspect of the film is the acting. Viggo Mortensen gives one of his best performances in the role of Nikolai Luzhin, a very mysterious, intelligent and ambitious man who serves both as a driver and a cleaner for Semyon. He is so intense and menacing and yet he plays the character in a way that you are attracted to him. Vincent Cassel, although his accent did not convince me at all, is also terrific as Kirill, the alcoholic and sexually repressed son of Semyon who is constantly trying to live up to his father's criminal expectations. Armin Mueller-Stahl is sublime as Semyon as he manages to deliver the good and the evil man through his eyes, both at the same time. At last, Naomi Watts gives an underrated performance as Anna, as she manages to be vulnerable and tenacious at the same time. 

Focus Features
Eastern Promises is also visually interesting as the cinematography provides an authentic atmosphere, and so does the production design, and the editing is excellent. There also are some scenes, very violent and filled with gore, that definitely aren't for everyone but add to the film's authenticity.

Despite this, the film didn't quite work for me. I guess it was the lack of tension throughout the film or of a compelling story, but I just found it a dull. I'm not sure I would have kept watching if it wasn't for the excellent cast.


  1. I enjoyed the hell out of this film as I love what Viggo does in this film. Especially the fight in the spa where he lets it all hang out.

  2. Aww I'm sorry you didn't like this more! This is in my top 5 of all time. I adore this movie.

  3. Viggo was just amazing in this! I agree about the accents being a bit dodgy but he sounded really adorable :)