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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
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POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
18
Cast
Viggo Mortensen
Naomi Watts
Vincent Cassel
Armin Mueller-Stahl.
Directors
David Cronenberg.
Screenwriters
Steve Knight.
Running Time
100 minutes

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Eastern Promises
Cronenberg takes on the Russian Mob


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Plot
When a Russian teenager dies in childbirth, nurse Anna (Watts) determines to find her family and save the baby from foster care. The girl’s diary leads her to enigmatic ‘driver’ Nikolai (Mortensen) and the bloody underworld of the Russian Mafia.


Review
Eastern Promises
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The first time Viggo Mortensen’s mysterious Mafia fixer Nikolai gets to dominate the screen in Eastern Promises, he is using a hair-drier to defrost a frozen corpse. He works calmly, expensive tie slung over his shoulder, cigarette dangling laconically from his lip, as he snips off the fingers and their incriminating prints. With his distinctly Russian air of seen-it-all cynicism, his weary curl of
a smile and a luxuriantly accented voice, he’s pretty charming for a man cutting the fingers off a murdered gangster.

As a good guy who does bad things, Mortensen gave mystery and moral weight to A History Of Violence, David Cronenberg’s previous step into the mainstream, and he performs a similar task here. Sadly, his castmates don’t get the same opportunity. Vincent Cassel takes the traditional Joe Pesci crazy-bastard role, as an off-the-rails, none-too-bright Mob captain who proudly describes an illegal consignment of vintage wine as “old as fuck”. Naomi Watts is the big-hearted nurse on a mission to trace a dead girl’s family, and there’s only so much she can do with that.

The problem primarily lies with Steve Knight’s overly schematic screenplay. Like the writer’s Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises is an issue movie concerned with the murky world of people-trafficking and the Russian Mafia. In the event that any viewer is under the illusion that luring Eastern European teenagers to London, pumping them with heroin and forcing them into prostitution is a good thing, Knight trowels on the moral outrage. A diary-reading voiceover by the dead girl, who might as well be called Victima Deadmeatova, piles on the misery until it topples into melodrama.

Cronenberg’s obviously much happier with the intricacies of gangster life. Perhaps thrilled at the discovery of an ethnic Mob that Scorsese hasn’t got to first, he revels in the detail, fascinated by conflicted nostalgia for the old country and the tattoos that ensure a Russian gangster’s past is permanently etched into his body: a very Cronenbergian idea. He has a good feel for the drabber side of London, too. Unlike most North American directors, he manages to reach the end credits without inserting a single shot of buses passing over Tower Bridge. “It never snows in this city,” grumbles Armin Mueller-Stahl’s shabby kingpin. “It’s never hot.”

Then there is the violence, which is, in one case, literally eye-popping. Cronenberg has always considered the rending of flesh too important to be glamorised, and the bloodshed here is convincingly messy, with a gruesomely inept throat-slashing and a naked bathhouse showdown which makes the diner scene in A History Of Violence look like a pillow fight, and deserves to earn Mortensen some kind of award for nude acting above and beyond the call of duty.

It’s the kind of daring, visceral sequence you leave the cinema talking about, but coming on the heels of one of the best films of Cronenberg’s career, Eastern Promises winds up being a disappointment. Where A History… was a comic-book adaptation with unexpected depth, this takes a painful issue and gives it a pulpy implausibility.


Verdict
Mortensen shines but a contrived, issue-driven plot destabilises what could have been a great Russian gangster movie.


Reviewed by Dorian Lynskey

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Eastern Promises
Empire Star Rating

Eastern Promises Review

David Cronenberg triumphs again, showcasing the Viggo Mortensen's onscreen prowess in a daring performance. Bearing the trademarks of psychological drama and gritty violence, Eastern Promises is a very compelling crime story. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 00:06, 05 February 2012 | Report This Post


Smart, Classy, Yet Highly Non-Sequitar

First off, the film is brilliantly directed, and the whole cast perform well, especially Mortensen. However there are so many scenes that do not directly relate to the plot, and sometimes do not even relate at all. This spoils the illusion and prevents the film from bring anything more than a solid gangster film. Too contrived for its' own good ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 23:31, 10 November 2010 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

A sequel???No thanks. Mortensen was absolutely class in this though. ... More

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 14:15, 08 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

^ Just found out about the sequel. Slightly bizarre but not unwelcome news. The first film was too slight to be really great but the foundations are definitely there to expand upon.  ... More

Posted by hatebox at 14:06, 08 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

Really can't wait for the sequel, some scenes were vicious though - Cassel and Mortessen make a great team. Viggo is an intellectual as an actor, the guy speaks four languages, a method man, looks goods for 52!! Shame Cassel's character was a nutcase, he found a little redemption in the end - Not much though. Has to hold the record for the briefest kiss in a film I've seen in a while. Hope Watts will be back maybe for the third. Once again Cinema makes my city look very swish, even in... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Sphinx at 19:36, 07 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

Spot-on review imo, the movie isn't as balanced as ry of Violencertensen is equally good here. The subject matter and the way Cronenberg handles it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. This could have been a classic gangster movie if it were about something else entirely. ... More

Posted by Jasper_29 at 20:24, 06 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Eastern Promises

A History Of Violence was one of the Director's best ever films and this just is not in the same league.   I think it was an intruging mix bringing the unique worlds of Cronenberg and the seedy London under world together, and the performances are very powerful, but the script lets the film down big time.  As well as a number of cliches, the twist at the end doesn't really convince and like someone else said Naomi Watts is underused.  I also can not shake the feeling than the... More

Posted by ElephantBoy at 16:09, 06 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Eastern Promises

Very good film. The fight scene in the shower room remains one of my favourite scenes of recent years. ... More

Posted by Nill Demand at 04:54, 06 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Eastern Promises

Watched this for the first time last night and really enjoyed it. Would be interested to see a sequel with Nikoli's rise to power in the Russia mob....despite being an undercover. Sure, Naomi Watts was a tad surplus to requirements but Mortesen and Cassell's performances held the entire movie ... More

Posted by Timon at 08:42, 04 August 2010 | Report This Post


awesome!

Arial"]I just watched this - brilliant film. Mortensen smashes it! ] ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Snake-Eyes at 20:18, 22 April 2009 | Report This Post


3 out of 5??

Loved this. Viggo and Cronenberg looks to be a very good partnership indeed. The bathhouse scene has to be one of the best, most shocking fights to come out of Hollywood in a long time!! My jaw dropped. Just Brilliant. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by DanishX at 09:12, 05 February 2009 | Report This Post


Not as good as Cronenberg's A History of Violence, but it is an entertaining if at times disturbing, thriller with a great script and assured direction. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by willchadwick at 23:48, 30 December 2008 | Report This Post


Empire's got it spot on. The story is pedestrian, almost like a Sunday night TV detective thriller, with two dimensional characters apart from Mortensen's. Check out when the crime boss is introduced; they get him playing the violin and cooking almost in the same scene, both demonstrating his kindly old grandpa persona with subtlety of sledgehammer. I'd also add that my main problem with it was the distinct lack of peril. Watt's and her family never seem to be under threat and part of the conclu... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Najemikon at 01:58, 01 June 2008 | Report This Post


Great film, proof that empire don't always know what their talking about! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by plum bob at 11:02, 04 May 2008 | Report This Post


Viggo's Back Wheels

Yep, I basically agree with main review especially about the London setting. I love it when Tower Bridge is depicted next to Big Ben. Also well done to Viggo for showing his "Albert Halls". Has anyone ever told Cronenburg it's more effective to let the imagination do the work when doing violence, (ala Reservior Dogs)? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by MyPOV at 14:53, 28 April 2008 | Report This Post


dark and dingy

While I much prefer Cronenbergs new found love affair with reality to some of his old squishy surrealist material ( Naked Lunch/Existence/Spider etc) I found this a bit dark and dull and underwhelming. I don't know if it's something about the cinematography or just the available light in England but it all just seems a bit drab and kitchen sinky. I loved A History Of Violence and was hoping for a similar outing but was disappointed. It's fine and I can't denegrate it too much, it's just not g... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by mrwinky99 at 09:49, 08 April 2008 | Report This Post


RE: Eastern Promises

r: ronenberg riter: Knight g: ortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Sinead Cusack s Anna (Watts), a midwife/nurse tries to translate the diary of one of her patients who died of giving birth, she becomes the target of a Russian mafia family, including their ruthless driver Nikolai (Mortensen). /b] From being a director of low-budget sci-fi horror, to evolve into one of thrillers, David Cronenberg presents another masterpiece. Collaberating with his star fro... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by R W at 19:15, 22 March 2008 | Report This Post


I liked it,overly simlistic and melodramatic though.Shite enough ending...but eh,still liked it!Weird. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by eiffey at 22:35, 21 March 2008 | Report This Post


RE:

I really wanted this movie to be great. Unfortunatley despite Viggo Mortensen and Vincent Cassel excelling, i thought their characters deserved a more solid plot and story. I also thought the 'twist' element toward the end needed to be dealt with in greater detail. i agree, It felt like a t.v drama with xceptional perfomances. 3/5 ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by justfontaine at 00:49, 07 March 2008 | Report This Post


A pantomime take on the world of foreign gangsters, this comes across like Cronenberg's Gangs of New York; and that isn't exactly a good thing ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dunner05 at 15:35, 06 March 2008 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

Watched this today and was really impressed, except for the criticisms already mentioned.  Viggo having a punch up stark naked...nice p; ... More

Posted by Newander at 17:13, 04 March 2008 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

A tightly paced and entertaining Cronenberg effort with a superb central performance from Viggo Mortenson (on another year may have won 'Best Actor' at the Oscars). The film does have flaws in that it finishes abrubtly and never seems to develop Watt's character, but a strong effort from Cronenberg nonetheless. Movie (as mentioned before) will be remembered for one of the most brutal punchups in history. ... More

Posted by DAVID GILLESPIE at 12:20, 03 March 2008 | Report This Post


RE:

and gripping little thriller. Stretches credibility a little at times and Naomi Watts’ character is very under-developed, but Viggo Mortensen’s central performance is good enough to sustain your interest throughout, with Armin Mueller-Stahl and Vincent Cassell lending fine support throughout.(8/10) ... More

Posted by MOTH at 12:01, 03 March 2008 | Report This Post


... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Kat113 at 15:11, 29 February 2008 | Report This Post


... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Kat113 at 15:11, 29 February 2008 | Report This Post


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