Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts
Runtime: 100 mins
From the exciting duo of cult director David Cronenberg and Oscar-nominated writer Steve Knight comes Eastern Promises; a violent glimpse into the world of the Russian Mafia in London. Naomi Watts plays Anna, a midwife whose life changes after a 14-year-old Eastern European prostitute dies giving birth. With the help of her Russian uncle, she reads the girl’s diary, which leads her to the mysterious Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen). Working as a driver for one of London’s most feared and respected crime families, he is a cold and ruthless figure. However, there’s more to him than meets the eye, as is the way with much of this tumultuous film.
I expected to be reeling off comparisons with Cronenberg and Mortensen’s previous collaboration, A History of Violence, but this film has more in common with Knight’s excellent Dirty Pretty Things. Weighty themes such as sex trafficking, organised crime, male sexuality and even racism are thrown into the mix, set against a sinister London backdrop.
In the typical style of Cronenberg, there are moments of extremely realistic ultra-violence which help to inject some life into this slow-burning, serious film. Nikolai seems comically over-the-top at times, stubbing cigarettes on his tongue and chopping off fingers like there’s no tomorrow. Similarly, Vincent Cassel as his partner is a Russian caricature, spitting and drinking “wodka” at every opportunity. Watts gives a typically understated performance as the voice of reason amidst all the brutality, and whilst Mortensen deserves credit for graphically exposing himself, it’s his fantastically ambiguous portrayal that catches the eye.
Already tipped for Oscar nominations next year, this multi-layered film will please fans of intelligent, thought-provoking thrillers, although inconsistencies prevent it from fully living up to its promise.