Thursday, 18 October 2007

Eastern Promises

The first thing that I'll say about Eastern Promises, since it seems to set itself up for such comparisons, was that it struck me as being much more solid and consistent than A History of Violence which did not impress me much. The latter movie had its moments, but when Mortensen's character went back to take care of business, it struck me as just plain silly.

When I read a review about what they're promoting as the instant-classic knife fight in the bath house in Promises, I feared it would happen again. But I had no real complaints here. Long fight scenes simply bore me regardless (wish I could fast forward), but people seem to like them for some reason. I guess I would have to add that I don't appreciate Cronenberg's emphasis on hitting you in the face with the graphic brutality, but I suppose a case could be made that it's better than white-washing the violence as if it's not messy at all.

The strength of the movie was the juxtaposition of the relatively innocent world of Anna (Watts) and the dark world of Nikolai (Mortensen), and the way that Anna courageously and with realistic struggles impacts that dark and powerful world. Both worlds come across well, though they both also appear pretty grim and lifeless. London does not come across looking like a very joyful place.

As this all happens, the sense of mystery and intrigue unfold well and keep you interested. In the end, the relative realism (not that I would have a clue about the accuracy of the Russian mob life) which is a strength also ensures that it's an hour and a half of living in a dark, dull, brutal world that is, understandably, just no fun to experience. So I'll give it a *** and a grudging mug up. Vic, there's little question that you'll like it more.


  1. You were right that I would enjoy the film more. I give it a solid ***+. I’m not sure it is as good as Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, but it’s close. I thought the two worlds in the film were depicted in very realistic and understated ways (knife scenes notwithstanding), that the acting was excellent, the grimness of London accurate (especially as it applies to the criminal world of immigrants) and that it was a well-told story with a very unique feel. This uniqueness is the reason for the film’s greatness. It doesn’t tell the story the way it has been told before. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t predictable in parts, but the predictability was part of the way it felt so natural (unlike most thrillers), just like the characters and what happens to them feels much more natural than what you usually get in a thriller. It’s a soft intelligent thriller and I’m surprised by its popularity (not with critics, but with the masses who hunger for action and violence).

    I have called the film “great” because I think there is an element of greatness in the understated way it depicts this dark world. But the film isn’t perfect (at least, not to me). I was disappointed in some aspects of the film. It gave us some good characters and fleshed them out well, but perhaps not well enough. They all seemed just a little too superficial, especially in terms of their backgrounds, where we get only glimpses. Then there was the violence. Of course, with Cronenberg one expects graphic violence, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. All of the violent scenes felt gratuitous to me – not in having these violent scenes, but in the graphic way they were done. But then Cronenberg, like many other directors, seems to believe that such graphic violence is harmless (or perhaps even helpful). I don’t agree.

    Looks like we have two mugs up on this one, though the coffee in mine is of considerably better quality.

  2. I want a star rating system on the homepage.