Monday, October 6, 2008

Eastern Promises Review


Set in a murky underworld of London, focusing on a Russian contingent dealing in the sex-slave trade, Eastern Promises paints a dark and disturbing world of cheap lives and organised crime. London is covered in a permanent film of gloom, penetrated rarely with the odd glimpse of sun, with rain-strewn streets, looming shadows and confined, low shot interiors and exteriors, giving the feel of a city trapped in its own squalidness. London has rarely looked this miserable. In the midst of this hopelessness and misery enters Anna (Naomi Watts), a pediatric nurse, working at a London hospital, who happens to help save a premature baby but unfortunately not the young, badly beaten, 14 year old mother, who had previously staggered into the building, hemorrhaging heavily before passing out.Anna, having suffered a miscarriage some months before, strikes up a bond with the child, and on finding a diary written by the mother, something she was clutching before she died, Anna decides to track down the nearest relative to the young girl before the child becomes lost in the social care system. In the process of getting the diary translated, from it's original Russian, Anna finds a business card of a restaurant amongst the pages, hoping someone can help her trace the girls family she decides to give the place a visit. The address leads Anna to meet restaurateur Semyon (Armin-Mueller-Stahl), an elderly Russian whose warm welcome masks the horrific part he plays in the poor girls life. In being introduced to Seymon we enter the world of the Vory V Zakone (Russian Mafia); who adorn their bodies with a series of tattoos; symbols that represent their standing in the organisation.

A mystical, almost intense, reference surrounds the adorning of these tattoos for the Vory V Zakone; a series of fierce, colourless symbols, placed in symbolic parts of the body by rank and accomplishment; much like an army officer with a chest full of medals. This is vintage Cronenberg territory; transgression and body transmogrification in full swing. We witness an almost erotic scene in which Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), in the midst of being tattooed, half naked, lying back, casually smoking a cigarette, is perfectly at one with the needle, the ink almost caressing his body.

Many feel that Eastern Promises feels muted, understated, lacking in depth and missing his bold brush strokes. Scenes of greatness flicker sporadically and moments of sheer horror; a scene in which Nikolia clips the fingers off a corpse or that first opening murder, are few and far between. So it's with annoyance, rather than celebration, that we witness one of Cronenberg's finest moments; Nikolia's naked fight, with two fully dressed assassins in a public bath-house. This amazing scene, honest in his brutality and fierceness, feels like it sprung out of a different film, such stark and brave film-making feels so out of place in this otherwise turgid, plodding tale

1 comment:

BB said...

This is a fantastic movie - I loved every minute of it from start to finish - especially the twist in the middle :)