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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

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

We all in the store agree this was a great movie not as good as 'history' but still a great film, plus i'll now forever have Aragons cock imprinted on the brain!!!! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by BLOCKBUSTERCORBY at 21:37, 23 February 2008 | Report This Post


RE: Could Have Been Superb

*** SPOILERS ***   Viggo Mortensen stands out in this movie - his Russian gangster is one of those cool cinematic creations that rise above the movies they inhabit. I thoroughly enjoyed Eastern Promises, apart from Mortensen the other performances were also largely excellent especially the Russian don played by Armin Mueller-Stahl, whose piercing eyes did a fair bit of the menacing acting for him.   Naomi Watts didn't really need to exercise her acting chops but con... More

Posted by Fluke Skywalker at 20:11, 28 January 2008 | Report This Post


Easterm Promises

Tense, thrilling. Murky and atmospheric. Watts is as usual good, Cassel is great, but finally Mortenson gets a film that will truly break him out as the actor he is. Cronenberg's direction is solid. The bathhouse fight scene will be legendary and a standard for film fights to come. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 16:34, 01 January 2008 | Report This Post


disappointed

not a patch on 'History of Violence'. There was a potentially excellent movie in here, but apart from the set pieces and some nice character detail from Viggo, it was a hollow, boring experience ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheMadFatChickKiller at 13:16, 17 December 2007 | Report This Post


RE:

Just seen it this week. Being dissapointed with A History Of Violence, I really hoped that Cronenberg`s latest could satisfy more. This time I wasn`t dissapointed. Right from the first scene you`re pulled into the movie until the very last scene. The spirit of the movie is set right at the beginning. Everything is great about this, to start with the acting. Everbody`s performance (except the Vincent Cassel one, who I found to be annoying at times) is awesome, with a great Viggo ... More

Posted by TheGodfather at 20:25, 08 December 2007 | Report This Post


An entertaining gangster film almost totally lacking in depth that engages the viewer just enough for them to most-way forgive its flaws. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by tombetom at 01:25, 11 November 2007 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

I thought this was a good film but not a great one.  Viggo was excellent in it, probably his best performance for me and the fight was absolutely excellent.  Overall it lacked a little something for me and I thought Naomi Watts was criminally underused. ... More

Posted by mackey at 12:10, 03 November 2007 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

Good God. Just wrote out a huge review and wireless cut out on me. uess I'll have to shorten it.   Ok, so I loved this movie. To me it was a little more exotic than other movies out there right now (the title alone conjures up exotic images), and it did seem like fresh subject matter but which was quite believeable. Personally I'm biased as I'm mad for those crazy Ruskis having studied a lot of Russian history at uni, but I genuinely loved the set up of this Russian mafia style hierarc... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Sway at 20:31, 31 October 2007 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

nt to see this film earlier and I have to say... I was impressed.   Viggo Mortensen is absolutely fantastic in this, possibly one of the best things he has ever made. A History Of Violence got the award-touts, Lord of the Rings got the great box office score, and it doesn't look like this will get either. However, that shouldn't fool you, because this is as fine of a film as any of the aforementioned four, and definitely as fine of a performance from Viggo himself. His emotionless exte... More

Posted by Piles at 20:01, 31 October 2007 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

A new Cronenberg film, which means, yet again, another film that promises much and delivers a good, solid picture with some standout moments that belong in a much better film. Its getting so I am writing virtually the same review for every film that he makes. On the the plus side this here had me involved the whole way through and Cronenbourg does enjoy filming violence in a way that always causes a sharp intake of breath followed by nervous laughter from the cinema audience but it also suffers... More

Posted by MartinBlank76 at 08:56, 31 October 2007 | Report This Post


RE:

L: CameronJames At best, a really good ITV1 mid week drama with added violence. Not a cinema story really. 'll go along with that. I thought the talent involved was far better than the story deserved, which was pretty boring. The best bit was Viggo's naked fighting. ... More

Posted by Castor Troy at 17:27, 30 October 2007 | Report This Post


eastern promises

Eastern Promises is a gritty, dark affair, delivered with such panache by Cronenberg that it's easy to forgive the odd mob cliches that pop up every now and then. Mortensen is cooler than cool as the tattooed Nikolai, an ambitious and mysterious killer working his way up the underworld ladder, and he's matched by Cassel, whose twitchiness rivals Joe Pesci at his best. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by moviemaniac2 at 21:07, 29 October 2007 | Report This Post


RE: Definally want to see this movie!

fan of Cronenberg and i'm always intrigued when he brings a new film out as he along with Lynch are the two most unique directors working today. On the whole the film isn't a masterpiece and while it isn't as good as A History of Violence its perhaps more interesting. This is a powerful unique story and for once we're witnessing a gangster story that isn't cockney, Itallian or Irish packed, the Russian spin on the genre is a fine relief, and Cronenberg's casting is superb. Mueller-Stahl's pe... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by doncopey1 at 21:02, 29 October 2007 | Report This Post


RE: Definally want to see this movie!

I thought it was okay - not too bad.  The plot was alittle thin i felt.  What held the film together for me were the performances.  Vincent Cassell, Armed Mueller-Stahl, Noami Watts were good but Viggo Mortensen shines as the mysterious Viktor.   I liked the plot twist at the end and being sentlemental at heart i loved the ending.  ... More

Posted by princessa at 13:45, 29 October 2007 | Report This Post


RE: Definally want to see this movie!

I really enjoyed it. Loved the violence which was very graffic when it did happen. Also it was quite amusing in places. I liked the fact it was a gangster film with a difference, ie Russian. I loved A History Of Violence and this didnt dissapoint either. 4/5 ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Dready at 22:07, 28 October 2007 | Report This Post


RE: Eastern Promises

t=verdana]Though I loved A History of Violence and had been looking forward to this for weeks, I have to admit that Empire got it right: Eastern Promises is a disappointment. t=verdana] n problem is with the script, which is overly simple and weakened by basic implausibility. The story develops along excessively obvious lines, leaving its one real surprise until too late, and making little of it when it arrives. Also, despite the violence of the film, it generates little real suspense, and its... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by westsider at 13:14, 28 October 2007 | Report This Post


At best, a really good ITV1 mid week drama with added violence. Not a cinema story really. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by CameronJames at 01:11, 28 October 2007 | Report This Post


RE:

Just come back from watching it so here's my two pence.   Being a Cronenberg fan I was looking forward to see what he can do with the gangster genre, a favourate genre of mine.  I was hoping he could either freshen it up and bring his stamp over it or keep it simple but interesting and complex.   What you get really is a straight forward gangster film dealing with Russian maffia with a hint of trademark undercurrent of the directors stamp...but not much.  &nb... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by kenada_woo at 23:25, 27 October 2007 | Report This Post


This film is a masterpiece i loved it. viggo's acting was brilliant. you must see this film ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by casino at 19:46, 27 October 2007 | Report This Post


Possible the best thing Viggo Mortensen has ever done. One of the best films I've seen in years ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nbula.rising at 13:36, 26 October 2007 | Report This Post


I must disagree with the Empire review of this movie. I wasn't disappointed at all. Again, Cronenberg has made another beautiful and brutal film that is thought provoking and astounding in both its simplicity and intricacies. Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts both shine in their roles, but for me it was Armin Mueller-Stahl who was a revelation, portraying a character so charismatic yet repellant that he completely captivated me with every look and gesture and word. The fight scene in the ba... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by tbird at 13:48, 25 October 2007 | Report This Post


I must disagree with the Empire review of this movie. I wasn't disappointed at all. Again, Cronenberg has made another beautiful and brutal film that is thought provoking and astounding in both its simplicity and intricacies. Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts both shine in their roles, but for me it was Armin Mueller-Stahl who was a revelation, portraying a character so charismatic yet repellant that he completely captivated me with every look and gesture and word. The fight scene in the ba... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by tbird at 13:48, 25 October 2007 | Report This Post


One of the years best films

I really enjoyed watching "Eastern Promises".It was a gripping and violent film with a great perfomance from Viggo Mortensen and excellent direction from David Cronenberg. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by SMP33 at 10:07, 25 October 2007 | Report This Post


Film of the year

Have to agree with jimibadboi7 - this is easily one of the films of the year. Dorian I'm sorry but you are talking out of your arse with that review... Viggo and Cronenberg in with a shout of oscar nominations for this one after getting shat on with "History"... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by shadyboy at 22:35, 22 October 2007 | Report This Post


Film of the year

Have to agree with jimibadboi7 - this is easily one of the films of the year. Dorian I'm sorry but you are talking out of your arse with that review... Viggo and Cronenberg in with a shout of oscar nominations for this one after getting shat on with "History"... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by shadyboy at 22:35, 22 October 2007 | Report This Post


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