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Eastern Promises (2007)

October 13, 2010

7/10 Painted Men

It’s no History of Violence, but a solid follow-up nonetheless.

Eastern Promises is about a midwife in London who helps a teenage mother give birth before she dies from related injuries. Afterwards, the nurse comes in possession of the girl’s diary which details her life as a drugged-up prostitute in the Russian mob, so for some reason Dr. Quinn decides to bring this choice discovery to the attention of the mob boss himself, and, whaddaya know, she winds up in a real shitty mess and gets taken under the wing of an understanding mob finger man who may be her only hope of survival.

So David Cronenberg’s kinda the man, huh? Truly, deeply embarrassing how few of his movies I’ve covered over here so far and I don’t know how many folks out there agree that he’s one seriously underappreciated dude, but the guy ain’t kiddin’ around. Yeah, a lot of his movies have the same problems that are holding this here ditty back, but they’ve also got a lot of the same strengths that occasionally make this here ditty shine.

I mean, when your first claim to fame as a film maker comes in the form of the most realistic, outrageously gory head explosion that made everyone thank God for whoever it was that invented the REWIND button, the masses begin to expect a certain something from ya’ over the years. So in comes a whole new grisly way to slit your characters’ throats, a complimentary Intro to Body Disposal course so the masses don’t forget the fingers next time they’re aiming to bump off a snitch, and a reminder that stabbing your attacker in the eye is usually a surefire bet when double-teamed by assassins in your birthday suit. Some of the finer points of all this Cronenberg-y goodness takes all of five minutes to get around to (as is usually the case) while the rest peter out at fine pace, and that’s all great, that’s what I like to see.

But the one scene in particular that I kept on hearing about when this hit theaters was the said bathhouse brawl featuring a super naked Viggo Mortensen. Considering that Cronenberg doesn’t have a whole lot of experience with bareknuckle beatdowns, he does a pretty swell job all in all, but the problem is that Viggo is SUPER NAKED the whole time. Apologies in advance for the visuals, it’s just that it’s hard to concentrate on the action when Aragorn’s dick is flying every which way and the camera keeps on going in for the rarely-seen “taint shot” that most actors outside of Larry Flynt’s Rolodex have tended to shy away from over the years. Not even sure the ladies will like this one thanks to all the blood and whatnot, and while I give Viggo some major props for manning up and baring it all, I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation about this scene that didn’t end with, “…yeah, but I didn’t need to see his balls.” It’s decently choreographed and the best thing Cronenberg does is distance himself from the action movie myth that as long as you’re a badass you can walk out of any fight without so much as a rope burn, but it didn’t quite live up to the hype.

Although if that last paragraph didn’t quite spell it out, Cronenberg sure knows how to get the most out of his cast. Man, from the moment Viggo ashes out a cigarette on his tongue like that’s how everyone’s supposed to do it before going to work on a frozen corpse, Naomi Watts immediately starts playing second fiddle. And that’s not really her fault, it’s just that her humdrum character has no chance of competing with a family of killers and she’s just kind of around because someone has to say her lines in order to move the plot along. But even with the fake Russian accent that he and his comrades can’t quite pull off and just makes things harder to catch than adds to the authenticity, Viggo is quite awesome as Nikolai – the only Russian thug with some semblance of a conscience – and it’s great to have an anti-hero of sorts whose life motto boils down to, “Anger is dangerous. It makes people do stupid things.” After all, the real hard knocks are the ones who don’t have to prove it and, boy, are they something else to watch.

Same goes for Armin Mueller-Stahl as the Russian don, Semyon, but the same does not go for Vincent Cassel who hams it up at every chance as the don’s dumbass son, Kirill. Bummer, ’cause I like Cassel, dig that naturally haggard vibe about him.

So if Eastern Promises didn’t fizzle out during the last twenty minutes and if Cronenberg had a better knack for writing dialogue that rang closer to the way people actually talk to each other, this might have been an 8. The Greco-Roman dudity aside and the fact that it doesn’t really have a whole lot to say outside of giving me one more reason to be thankful I’m not a contract killer, it’s still a pretty engrossing gangster movie with a script that gets better as it goes along.

Sure does make me want to get a tattoo though, but I’ve been saying that shit for years.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. October 13, 2010 8:50 am

    Seriously brutal shower, but awesome! Good little flick! Viggo is great in it!

  2. Smally permalink
    October 13, 2010 10:55 am

    Love me some VIGGO! Where has he been lately? And out of curiosity, which movie are you referring to that had that realistically violent head explosion?

    • October 13, 2010 11:02 am

      Scanners. Just YouTube it and stop there. The rest of the movie pales in comparison.

  3. HermioneO permalink
    October 13, 2010 12:42 pm

    To answer Smally, Viggo has been working another Cronenberg film, The Dangerous Method, as Freud. Vincent Cassel is also in it as a guy named Otto. That film wrapped early this year, then Viggo went to New Orleans to film On The Road (the Jack Kerouac classic). He plays Old Bull Lee, a secondary role in the flick. Again, he just finished filming that. Don’t know what he is doing at the moment, but have heard a whisper that he is campaigning for Dennis Kucinich. Don’t know if that’s just a repeat of 2008 news or something new.

    His next film project is purportedly an Argentinian film.

    • October 13, 2010 4:28 pm

      Wow, that’s some interesting stuff to look forward to. Hopefully Dangerous Method will have a similar vibe as Dead Ringers or Spider, doubt there’ll be much gore with Freud around. Might have to finally read On the Road now, too. Awesome! And thanks for visiting!

  4. Smally permalink
    October 13, 2010 1:47 pm

    Aiden: Thanks! I may have to cover my eyes since I’m so squeamish about violence, but that defeats the purpose doesn’t it? =) If it weren’t for Viggo being naked in that bathhouse scene, I probably would’ve closed my eyes through it.

    HermioneO: Thank you! Freud huh? That sounds mighty interesting.

  5. October 13, 2010 4:09 pm

    Love this performance. Mortensen isn’t really acknowldged as a A-list method actor, but he should be.

    • October 13, 2010 4:19 pm

      Yeah, I’m with ya’ on that one. Think he still needs to get people to stop calling him Aragorn.

  6. mcarteratthemovies permalink
    October 14, 2010 2:17 pm

    David Cronenberg IS the man. He’s consistently good across the board, and just recently I saw “The Brood,” his most personal film. You want a good horror movie that’s deep but not pretentious? Well, there you go.

    Of course, Viggo Mortenson is great in this. You might say he’s consistently good, too.

    • October 14, 2010 2:38 pm

      Haha, glad you agree. The Brood’s an early one right? Will check it out. Nice to see you back around these parts.

  7. October 14, 2010 2:45 pm

    Viggo is the one actor I truly respect, if only I have the cojones to watch his movies! This and the other one you’re referring to at the start of the review are too violent for my taste. I’m already cringing just by reading the fourth paragraph in… yeah I know, I’m such a chicken. Great review though.

    • October 14, 2010 2:47 pm

      hahaha. oh, you can handle it. not missing anything if you just close your eyes anyway. pretty happy with all the Viggo love over here at the moment. can’t wait to finally tackle this LotR marathon that’s been staring me in the face for ages now. damn Hobbit, why won’t you just come out already…

  8. October 15, 2010 10:39 am

    I liked the movie, but I thought main thrust of the movie was lame. This Russian mob guy goes out of his way for a dead prositute’s child. Whatever.

    • October 15, 2010 10:42 am

      Yeah, but then you found out what’s REALLY going on with him in the last half hour. Liked that little addition.

  9. October 16, 2010 8:02 pm

    Гений, прикованный к чиновничьему столу, должен умереть или сойти с ума, точно так же, как человек с могучим телосложением при сидячей жизни и скромном поведении умирает от апоплексического удара.

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