A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Friday, November 25, 2016

Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, 2007)

The Russian mafia seems to have supplanted the Italian kind in the popular imagining of the violent criminal world. It has long been a staple of TV crime shows like Law & Order, but David Cronenberg gave it the most impressive and terrifying embodiment yet in Eastern Promises. The film, set in London, is a strikingly globalized production, with a Canadian director and English screenwriter (Steven Knight) and actors who are Danish-American (Viggo Mortensen), British (Naomi Watts), German (Armin Mueller-Stahl), French (Vincent Cassel), Polish (Jerzy Skolimowski), and Irish (Sinéad Cusack). Yet the film somehow maintains a strong semblance of authenticity, thanks to strong performances. Mortensen, long a favorite of mine, gives an intensely compelling, and Oscar-nominated, portrayal of a Russian undercover agent infiltrating the mob. His celebrated battle in the steam bath, in which he, naked and unarmed, is attacked by two well-clothed thugs carrying linoleum knives should never let you take another two-against-one battle in a James Bond film seriously. (Or not until Daniel Craig does it in the nude.) Mueller-Stahl demonstrates once again that one can smile and smile and be a villain, and Cassel steals scenes with his portrayal of Mueller-Stahl's careless, dissipated weakling of a son. My only complaint about Eastern Promises is a rather saccharine ending to Watts's portion of the story. The story of Mortensen's character ends inconclusively, with his apparent ascension to the role of boss of the mob, a risky position for an undercover agent. A sequel has been proposed and postponed, and at last report seems to be dead.