That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

Eastern Promises

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007 9:08 pm—Film

Eastern Promises (UK/Canada/USA 2007, Crime/Drama/Thriller), Writer: Steven Knight; Director: David Cronenberg

I feel like I need to see this film again before I can really write about it… But thanks to HC’s prodding, here’s my kick at the can.

After all the build-up to Eastern Promises (in my mind, anyway), the best way to describe it is as a shadow(box) of A History of Violence. It comes out swinging, but it just doesn’t carry the same punch.

There are a lot of parallels between the two films. Both feature Viggo Mortensen as a man who isn’t who he says he is. They explore the role of violence in society, and depict it so realistically that the violence is intolerably graphic (to me). Both films open with unknown thugs committing hideous murders, and feature ambiguous endings that are open to interpretation.

Eastern Promises carries the added weight of examining the interplay between two cultures trying to fit together. Set in London, the film explores the ruthless world of Russian organized crime. Sort of A History of Violence told between spoonfuls of borscht. Nikolai (Mortensen) is a driver for one of the most notorious Russian crime families in England. When a naïve midwife named Anna (Naomi Watts) discovers a diary containing dark secrets about Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), the head of the Russian mafia family, she finds herself caught up in a dangerous world of violence and deception, and turns to Nikolai who appears to be the lesser of many evils.

It’s not that Eastern Promises isn’t a good film. It’s just that Cronenberg set the bar so high with A History of Violence, and his latest effort doesn’t have the same impact. In fact, it seems more like an effort than a labour of love. Eastern Promises lacks the strong undertones that simmered just below the surface of A History of Violence. And because it mirrors a lot of the latter’s structure, you begin to wonder why Cronenberg bothered to make Eastern Promises—what he was trying to say that he hadn’t already.

One thing that doesn’t disappoint is Mortensen’s performance. He really is a phenomenal character actor, capable of impressive physical transformations. He throws himself into the role of Nikolai, body and soul—from the accent and the tattoos, to the bold nude scene that is as graphic as the movie’s violence.

Although I don’t have the stomach for it, I admire the way Cronenberg portrays violence. In interviews, Cronenberg has said that he depicts it as realistically as he does because he wants the horror of death to hit home with viewers. There is nothing glorious about the violence in Eastern Promises. As hard as it is to watch (and I often don’t), it’s a much more respectful way of portraying violence than the exploitative manner in which most modern horror movies do, turning blood and guts into so much eye candy.

Eastern Promises is certainly worth seeing; it’s a solid effort by a skilled, talented filmmaker with a unique perspective on life (and death). But if you’re choosing between Eastern Promises and A History of Violence, I’d put your money on the latter first.

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