Sunday, October 19, 2014

Eastern Promises (2007)

Director: David Cronenberg
Writer:    Steven Knight
Cast:       Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl

A Russian teenager living in London who dies during childbirth leaves clues to a midwife (Naomi Watts) in her journal that could tie her child to a rape involving a violent Russian mob family.

I had seen this film once before when it came on TV years ago. I don't remember whether it was before I came across Cronenberg's other works or after. Anyway 'Eastern Promises' and 'A History of Violence', both starring Viggo Mortensen, are an odd couple of films in Cronenberg's filmography in the sense that they are very non-Cronenbergian. The man who is most famous for the body-horror genre doing a couple of mob films albeit with a twist on the mob genre was really indeed odd. He followed it up with 'A Dangerous Method', a Carl Jung period film which also featured Mortensen in the role of Sigmund Freud. Looks like Cronenberg has now moved on to Robert Pattinson who starred in 'Cosmopolis' and his most recent film 'Maps to the Stars'. It seems he is again going back to Cronenberg mode with a Lynchian twist based on Cosmopolis and from what I heard about 'Maps to the Stars' which I haven't seen yet. He has been a vocal critic of Hollywood system and his latest film is the only one shot or set in US and it is supposed to be an outsider's look on the farcical side of Hollywood. Can't wait to watch that.

Coming back to Eastern Promises, my view on it has not changed on repeat watch. It is more than good but not great. Viggo Mortensen and Vincent Cassel are excellent but I just didn't think much of Armin Mueller-Sathl who is supposed to be the mob king. The story of a king who is disappointed by his prince is not a novel idea and some of the rituals done by the Russian mob looked a bit unconvincing in its portrayal, not that I am familiar with it. When you watch for the first time the twist works well. I don't think there is enough in the Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) story for it to be the central one in the film. There is no real conflict in his motivations which is what many other undercover films depicts (Donnie Brasco, The Departed, New World etc). Probably that is exactly what Cronenberg is going for, just bending the genre rules. Film was written by Steven Knight who directed Tom Hardy starring excellent little film 'Locke'. A sequel for Eastern Promises was discussed but didn't take off and now the project is dead.

All the three Cronenberg-Mortensen films are solid without being great. A supreme director dabbling with themes that he didn't handle in his career thus far. But its is great to see that he is back  again doing what he does best-mindfucks. 

Rating: 3.5/5