Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Eastern Promises, 2007

DRIVE bowled me over last week - it seemed the last word in tough, existentalist thrillers about loners but I had not seen EASTERN PROMISES, which inexplicably sat on the dvd shelf for a year or three before I suddenly decided to see it, and boy am I glad I did. This David Cronenberg thriller, scripted by Steven Knight, has it all in spades ! Loners don't get more lone than Viggo Mortensen here.

As IMDB describe it: In London, the Russian pregnant teenager Tatiana arrives bleeding in a hospital, and the doctors save her baby only. The Russian descendant midwife Anna Khitrova finds Tatiana's diary written in Russian language in her belongings and decided to find her family to deliver the baby, she brings the diary home and ask her uncle Stepan to translate the document. Stepan refuses, but Anna finds a card of a restaurant owned by the Russian Semyon inside the diary and she visits the old man trying to find a lead to contact Tatiana's family. When she mentions the existence of the diary, Semyon immediately offers to translate the document. However, Stepan translates part of the diary and Anna discovers that Semyon and his sick son Kirill had raped Tatiana when she was fourteen years old and forced her to work as prostitute in a brothel of their own. Further, Semyon is the dangerous boss of the Russian mafia.

This is a bleak universe set in dark, wet, and noir London and captures the dark side of the city perfectly, where these Eastern Europeans hang out with their own fearsome gang culture. Mortensen is the "driver" and go-to guy for this mob you would not want to cross. It is a stunning performance: every look, smirk, mood of his is conveyed as we try to fathom his motivations for doing what he does, as he casually chops off the fingers of the frozen corpse of the guy who gets his throat graphically slit in the opening minutes ... there is a stunning twist one cannot divulge later on though. Naomi Watts is also note perfect as Anna, the nurse, gradually realising the kind of people she is dealing with, while the softly spoken, avuncular Armin Mueller-Stahl quietly impresses as the underworld boss, as does Vincent Cassel as his unbalanced psycho son. The scene in the brothel with the cowed, vodka-drinking young prostitutes is grimly realistic, as are later violent scenes, particularly that stunning climax at the public baths where a naked Viggo takes on two assassins ... edge of seat stuff! Cronenberg orchestrates it all perfectly, and this dark black-hearted story is also a great London film showing parts of the city we don't see usually .... [London label]. The Promises of the title refers to those girls lured from their Eastern European countries and end up brutalised and as virtual prisoners of gangs like the one here ...

Interesting casting too - Sinead Cusack plays the worried wife of Anna's uncle Stepan (and we worry about the gang calling on her...) - Cronenberg directed Sinead's husband Jeremy Irons in DEAD RINGERS in 1988. I did not recognise Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski as Stepan - Jerzy directed Irons in MOONLIGHTING in 1981, and those films like DEEP END which I have reviewed and written about here before [London, Jane Asher labels] . I now want to go back and catch those Cronenberg films I missed ...
EASTERN PROMISES is a shattering film, leaving one with some stunning images and that mood it creates. But the ending? Is it a cop-out, and why do we not see the gang boss captured and removed, which happens off-screen, as a new gangland overlord takes his place at his usual restaurant table ....

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