Upon watching David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises a second time, I felt like I got no new food for thought out of the film. It’s still the same film I saw three months ago. It’s very good but doesn’t quite rank in the upper echelon of the gangster genre. It’s technically stunning and extremely well acted but there are a few quibbles that can’t be ignored. The script is well-structured with good plot points and twists but the dialogue is a little off-beat and some of it seems way out of left field. The ending still feels rushed and it still seems like there are a few chinks in the chain when the film is over.
The film delves deep into the heart of a Russian mafia family, headed by Seymon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and his son Kirill (Vincent Cassel). Living in London, they traffic many Eastern European prostitutes. A nurse by the name of Anna (Naomi Watts) delivers the baby of an unidentified girl, who died during the conception. Through a diary found in the woman’s purse, Anna learns that the the girl is Tatiana, one of those prostitutes. When Seymon learns that Anna is in possession of the diary, which exposes many secrets about himself and his son, he does all in his power to keep it from falling into the hands of the police. Viggo Mortenson plays Kirill’s ostensible and eerie driver/errand boy Nikolai, who crosses paths with Anna frequently during the film.
When you watch the film, on DVD or the big screen, there is no denying that this is one of the best looking motion pictures of the year and Cronenberg should be revered for that alone. The cinematography and editing are top notch.
It’s the acting by the ensemble cast that makes this thriller better than the norm. Naomi Watts is felicitous for the role of Anna and splendid in the supporting field are Vincent Cassel and Armin Mueller-Stahl. But it is Viggo Mortenson’s bravura turn as Nikolai that still remains in my book as the most outstanding performance of 2007.
DVD bonus features are most certainly lacking here, which means fans of the film should probably wait a few months to see if there’s some sort of collector’s edition on the way. There are only two featurettes that are interesting but very brief, adding up to just sixteen minutes total. One explores the pre-visualization and goals Cronenberg and writer Steve Knight set out to do before making the picture. Knight particularly wanted to explore prostitution trafficking and with some certain scenes he does so nicely. Cronenberg wanted to make a film that stuck with viewers days after seeing it. With just one scene, a bloody brawl featuring a very naked Viggo Mortenson, he does that easily. That scene will undoubtedly end up being the most indelible scene of the year. The second featurette explores Mortensons character, including the research in Eastern Russia he did for his role, and the semiotics of the tattoos that cover the bodies of these characters. Overall though, the DVD is a big disappointment as it shares only superficial insight into a complex film.
DVD technical features include English, French and Spanish subtitles and languages include English and French.