If you ever listen to the quiffy’ BBC film critic Mark Kermode he is always blowing smoke up the backside of his favorites and every movie they make, especially Mr Viggo Mortensen and director David Cronenburg. Well in that case Eastern Promises is Kermode’s wet dream, as not only do the director and star team up in Kermode’s native North London for this movie (Cronenburgs first film outside of Canada) but the star of the Lord of the Rings has the same ducks-ass haircut in tribute! When I listened to Kermode’s review on this particular movie on his addictive film hour on the Simon Mayo show (Friday afternoons and its very good) it was no surprise he loved the cotton socks of this one. He also had the same palpitations over the bedfellow of this one called The History of Violence’, also a Cronenburg/Mortensen production, which was again hyped up by the burnt out Teddy Boy to ridiculous proportions.
The above are no more than two average movies and an example of how films can gain momentum with the right sort of hype, like the said presenters skiffle band. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good moments here, a well observed film about the growing Russian influence in London a good topic to explore. But it just lacked that touch of class and the expectation that had been built around it. It’s just a very normal European style movie made in London.
As the Russian Oligarchs and the like embezzle their billions in the football clubs and the arts of the capitals of the world, the Vor Zakone, (the Russian mob) would inevitably follow the money to help wash it, steel it and spend it. This movie is one of the first to look at the growing Russian underworld in London and for that alone it’s worth considering a view. The most interesting bit was the tattoos the Russian mobsters display to show their criminal past, often away to express their loyalty and power in the criminal gangs, bathhouses often the meeting point for big mob debates so they can show their tattooed history like a peacock. Apparently the Russian mob would communicate this way, each tattoo telling a story or having significance to the guy’s status. A star would signify their individual rank in their particular crime family and like an American general; the more they have the more they are connected. The first star they get is on the knee cap, meaning they kneel to know one. If they ever do it’s probably Hari Kari time. Any person who dare have a tattoo of the star who is not a made man will get it cut off where they stand, and then fall.
After a gruesome Godfather style barber shop execution, we meet our main male protagonists. Krill (the always excellent Vincent Cassel’s) is a captain’ in the Russian family that seems to rule the Russian underbelly in this part of West London, his driver Nikoli (Viggo Mortensen) soon to be recommended by Krill to become a friend of the family-capiche! Krill’s father runs the family syndicate under the cover of a traditional Russian Restaurant. But pop is now tiring of his bourse eating, vodka swigging son, who is costing him money and his reputation, pop quietly planning to find a new man to run things, Nikoli certainly showing the right traits for this kind of work.
Midwife Anna (Naomi Watts) now enters the tale, having to deal with the death of a pregnant Russian girl on her shift, the 14-young suffering a fatal hemorrhage on the operating theater, continuing the movies bloody start. The baby is delivered just in time, the only clue to the dead mother’s identity a personal diary, which Anna takes home, maybe a way to find the parents of the poor kid by getting it translated. With a Russian restaurant listed in it then that’s surely the place to start.
Anna’s sleuthing leads her to the Trans Siberian Restaurant, where she innocently thinks she will receive help .When the owner Semyon (Armin Mueller Stahl) asks to see the diary, at first she’s not suspicious, but unaware her Russian speaking granddad, Stepan (Jerzy Skolimowski), has already started without her knowledge, the news only bad when she returns home. It turns out the girl was a trafficked into prostitution by Semyon and he wanting the diary-the evidence-back or else, and if she wants to cross that line and continue the search then she is no longer welcome in his restaurant, the boys surely on the way around to pick up the said diary and crack some heads. But if she doesn’t learn the dead mother’s identification then the kid will go into care and then be fostered. Nikoli has been tasked to bring it back, telling them to back with the good people and forget about it..
Viggo Mortensen … Nikolai
Vincent Cassel … Kirill
Mina E. Mina … Azim
Aleksandar Mikic … Soyka
Armin Mueller-Stahl … Semyon
Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse … Tatiana
Naomi Watts … Anna
Sinead Cusack … Helen
Jerzy Skolimowski … Stepan
On the face of it Eastern Promises is the Eastern Europe we have come to know over the last few years. Lots of underage girls trafficked to be hoared in seedy bed-sits, men that talk slowly and drink lots of vodka (especially when they are driving), and families in noisy restaurants doing funny dances between courses. Along with the weeping violins and Cronenburgs love of the hidden threat of the macabre this movie is a clich in many ways. Viggo Mortensons method acting is also slightly wooden here and talking slowly and flicking ash every ten minutes like Bob Dylan is hardly Vor Zakone cool. Although the film concentrated on authenticity it just didn’t feel that authentic, the Russians a caricature of the ones we see in American films. Naomi Harris, on the other hand, is almost invisible onscreen in the pivotal role that’s anything but as emotive as it needs to be. We just don’t understand the person she is trying to play, no real depth to her performance. When it slowly edges towards a love story you begin to lose faith with its motives.
The open ended finish was a big disappointment and on obvious sequel has been set up. I think we needed to be done and dusted in the two hours because this is morality tale after all. I think this gained momentum in the early days because of Vigo shooting in London and Cronenberg behind the camera it was rude not to talk it up. It’s a good film but nothing special or memorable about it, a lesser cast relegating it to oblivion for me. A simple story with a good cast and the right hype can make a lot of money and friends in this business. Capiche!
= = = SPECIAL FEATURES = = =
-Secrets and stories-
Behind the scenes stuff as luvvy Viggo explains his method acting, actually going to the Ukraine to watch Russians eat and walk, whilst Naomi Harris tried to explain why she was almost invisible on screen, even though she had tons of lines and scenes
-Marked For Life-
Quite an interesting bit about the tattoos, and more on how they mark a mans body and history.
In the Russian mafia, Vor V Zakone means thief for life’, as if they are proud of being lowlifes.
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RuN-TiMe 112 minutes
Imdb.com scores it 7.9 out of 10.0 (39,674 votes)
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