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USA 2006
Directed by
David Cronenberg
103 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Eastern Promises

Synopsis: A young girl arrives at a London Hospital, pregnant and haemorrhaging. Her baby is delivered by Caesarian and when the mother dies, midwife Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts) attempts to find the girl’s family through a diary written in Russian. She seeks translation help from Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), the owner of a restaurant which is a front for a ruthless Russian Mafia group known as Vory V Zakone. He. his son, Kirrill (Vincent Cassell), and their driver, Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) are involved in all manner of crime including sex trafficking  Anna finds herself caught up in this brutish world.

Canadian director David Cronenberg is best known for his challenging, cultish movies like The Fly (1986) and Crash (1996). Here he re-teams with the star of his previous film,The History of Violence (2005), Viggo Mortensen, for what is a characteristically grisly but also conventional thriller laid out with a surprisingly heavy-hand

From the get-go in which Naomi Watts’ midwife of Russian descent delivers a baby for a Russian junkie sex slave and in a short time is sitting with Russian mob boss Semyon after having been leered at by his useless drunkard of a son (Cassell) who requires full-time minding by Mortensen's Nikolai, the film progresses in a fashion which is both predictable and improbable before resolving in a farrago of what it is not too unkind to call nonsense. Here the script by Steve Knight who wrote the thematically-related Dirty Pretty Things (2006) appears to be the problem as it resolves the story’s two main strands, the power struggles within the Russian mob and the baby’s future, with frightening, near laughable, ease.

Whilst Mortensen is outstanding as the super-cool but ruthless enforcer and Watts, as always, is effective in what is an unchallenging role, Cassel is embarrassing as the stereotypical inadequate son and Mueller-Stahl’s kindly-old-patriarch-cum-evil-mob-boss is a one-note performance. 

Were not Cronenberg such a polished film-maker this generic material would not be as watchable as it is (the director’s indulgence in graphic violence, notably throat-slitting, nothwithstanding) but then given that it is Cronenberg it is a double disappointment.




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