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Eastern Promises - suspense DVD review
EASTERN PROMISES rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 4 1/2 stars
Actors: Viggo Mortenson, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Sinéad Cusack
Director: David Cronenberg   Studio: Universal Studios
DVD release: 23 December 2007   Runtime: 101 min. (1 disc)
Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, DVD-Video, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
DVD features: Audio tracks (DTS/Dolby Digital - English, French), Subtitles (English, French, Spanish), "Secrets and Stories," "Marked for Life"

Every so often you come across a film that you don't have much expectation for, but you are pleasantly surprised when you are drawn into its world. For me, that's how Eastern Promises played. There was more ambivalence than any like or dislike; some flicks grab you when you see the commercial or trailer, some don't. But upon viewing, I'm really glad I gave it a chance.

With a script by Steven Knight (Amazing Grace) and direction by David Cronenberg (The Fly, Scanners, The Dead Zone), Eastern Promises is the dual story of Nikolai Luzhin (Viggo Mortensen), a driver for the Russian mob in London, and midwife Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts).

Anna is in the delivery room when a fourteen-year-old girl staggers into Trafalgar hospital, bleeding badly, with obvious needle marks on her arms. She gives birth to a baby girl and then dies. Anna very quickly gets attached to the baby (you'll understand why through dialogue later on in the film) and finds in the girl's purse a diary written in Russian.

She first asks her irrascible uncle to decipher it, but he initially refuses. Eventually, when he does read a small portion, he realizes the power contained in it and warns Anna not to pursuie this further. But Anna has a strong will to trace the baby's lineage, and she unwittingly gets involved with the Vory V Zakone ("thieves in law") when she asks crime boss Semyon for his help in translating the diary.

At the same time, Nikolai is working his way up the ranks working for Semyon's son, Kirill. The less known about this plot thread the more you will enjoy it, but suffice to say what he does is very gritty. Nikolai does eventually cross paths with Anna, and their stories intertwine from there.

Both Watts and Mortensen (the whole cast, really) give tremendous performances. The actors are simply amazing in the credibility they lend to these roles: Mortensen for his intensely chilling menace, and Watts for being able to strike the right balance between vulnerability and tenacity when the scene dictates. I also have to throw some praise toward Armin Mueller-Stahl for his brilliant and calculated performance as Semyon, and Vincent Casell as the slightly confused yet savage son of a criminal enterprise.

As for the the brutal violence, it is displayed in a mature, no-nonsense fashion as shown within the first few minutes of the movie. There are several shocking scenes throughout, but it is all played for realism and not simply to shock without any substance, all of which fits the semi-noir style of the movie. With an excellent cast, superb script, and great visual style, Eastern Promises is a modern masterpiece worthy of all its praise.
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reviewed by Bobby Blades
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