Friday, September 21, 2007

Eastern Promises

“Crime butchers innocence to secure a throne, and innocence struggles with all is might against the attempts of crime.”
—Maximilien Robespierre

The film begins with two deaths and one birth. A father and son brutally murder a customer in a barbershop. Across London a 14 year-old prostitute (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse) dies as she gives birth to a baby girl. These two events are both traced back to the head (Armin Mueller-Stahl) of one of the city’s most powerful Russian crime families and his son (Vincent Cassel).

When a midwife (Naomi Watts) begins an investigation into the girl’s life she finds only darkness and death which put her, the child, and her loved ones in danger when the organization’s newest and deadliest member (Viggo Mortensen) is sent to retrieve the girl’s diary, protect the family’s secrets, and clean up the mess.

There’s much to appreciate here in a film where almost all of the performances are purposefully understated and controlled. Even if the film doesn’t live up the high expectations of A History of Violence, there is plenty to enjoy including one of the most brutal fight sequences in recent memory between a naked Mortensen and a pair of Russian goons.

If the film has a failing it is in the character of Anna. The character is much more thinly written than the others in the film, or that of Maria Bello in A History of Violence. Watts, for all her beauty and charm, just isn’t as strong an actress as Bello. Not that she is bad in the film; she is fine in a role it doesn’t ask her to do much besides acting confused and scared for most of the picture.

This is a film where not everything is what it seems. The film hints at plot elements and divided loyalties, but doesn’t rely on shocking twists to tell its tale. Although most, if not all, of these secrets can be figured out before they are entirely revealed, each only exists to add more depth to the characters and the tapestry of the story. Hollywood should collectively watch this film and take notes. This is how you create a compelling story with shifting scenes without the need to pull a completely implausible ending out of your ass at the last minute. Big kudos to director David Cronenberg and screenwriter Steven Wright for their deft storytelling here.

This isn’t a family film. It’s brutal, bloody and disturbing, but also quite worth watching if you can handle the subject matter and remarkably slowly pace for a such a short film (100 minutes). I wouldn’t recommend to all movie-goers, but if you can handle its adult, and often brutal, subject matter it is definitely worth a look.

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