Eastern Promises

The Man with the Russian Tattoos


21 September 2007| No Comments on Eastern Promises     by Sean Chavel


Close attention is needed but handsomely rewarded. Eastern Promises is a twisty but ultimately stunning crime fable that has you in aghast at how crazy/cruel the Russian mob lifestyle is. Driver and hired killer Nikolai Luzhin (Viggo Mortensen, “A History of Violence”) appears to have a loutish, vicious and totally repugnant personality at first glance. When he first talks smooth to Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts, “21 Grams”), a brainy blonde nurse, you wonder when his cordial veneer will crack to reveal himself as a harassing scumbag.

Mortensen’s Nikolai seems to share a good and evil duality, just like his Tom Stall character from “A History of Violence.” His body tattoo art informs us that Nikolai has spent a lifetime in crime – it’s a roadmap of his brute toughness. But he is also able to comprehend that life is different for ordinary folks that just want to pay their bills, have a meal in peace, and walk the streets unmolested. On the other side of the coin, the egomaniacal sociopath Kirill (Vincent Cassell, “La Haine”) whom he works with is the kind of mobster that would harm ordinary folks just for kicks.

The film’s first piece of action is a throat-slashing of a customer in a barber’s chair. Then at a local hospital, a young teenager dies while giving birth to a sickly baby in need of an incubator to stay alive. These two events contiguously connect Nikolai and Anna, bringing them together by chance. Anna, the nurse, has primary concern for the baby, feeling compelled to trace the baby’s lineage for guardianship.

Not at all intimidated, Anna finds herself entangled with London’s Vory V Zakone Russian criminal brotherhood while out in her search. The Don (Armin Mueller-Stahl, very insidious) has a new agenda, to retrieve the dead teenager’s diary which holds recorded details of the sex slave industry.

Zakone criminal Nikolai is sent to negotiate for the diary from Anna, and unexpectedly through their subsequent encounters, they develop a mutual respect for each other. What’s engrossing is how they speak to each other in a sealed code without stating the obvious that would self-implicate themselves. While they should be opponent of each other, as branded social roles would conventionally suggest, they manage to look out for one another over the course of foreboding events.

“Eastern Promises” comes to one extraordinary fight sequence: Nikolai is attacked at a bathhouse while completely in the buff. He is stabbed by two individuals that have been hired to rub him out. He fights back rigorously, being tossed onto the hard tile and shower fixtures while trying to snatch the murder weapon from his opponents. This is a classic among hand-to-hand combat scenes.

It’s a pretty big deal that David Cronenberg is the director of this film. He has made fifteen or so films, but his most recent four are masterpieces: “A History of Violence” (2005), “Spider” (2002), “eXistenZ” (1999), and “Crash” (1996). Typically Cronenberg, this newest is another feat in brainteasing plotting, full of daunting figures and extreme personalities. The film’s sole weakness is that it does not fully elucidate the impetus between the Don and his associates, and why they are compelled to bond Nikolai into their providence. But if you are a smart moviegoer then surely you can manage to patch the gaps with your own imagination. When it’s all said and done, “Eastern Promises” stings memorably.

96 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “Rush” (1991); “Donnie Brasco” (1997); “A History of Violence” (2005); “The Departed” (2006).


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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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