Theatrical Review: Eastern Promises
In London, a young Russian girl goes into a pharmacy looking for help. She’s clearly disturbed and pregnant and soon falls unconscious, due to a disturbance in her pregnancy. Once taken to a hospital, she falls under the care of a midwife named Anna, and unfortunately the mother dies, but her daughter lives. Anna discovers a diary from the young woman and she’s wants to find out more about this young girl, to see if she has any other family or else her newborn baby might become lost within London’s system. Anna’s investigation leads her to the Russian mob operating in London, where she intrigues the owner of a Russian restaurant with her predicament and catches the eye of a driver named Nikolai…
And that’s the starting premise of David Cronenberg’s newest movie, which is unfortunately a godawful title for this film, sounding more like some sort of subtle flavored tea or a new scented douche as opposed to even remotely conveying much of anything that this film is about. Now that’s not saying it’s a bad movie, it’s not that by any means and in fact out of all of Cronenberg’s films, this one might be his most straightforward and mainstream piece yet.
This all plays out well, but a little too much by the book, and Cronenberg’s style has always been one of detachment (i.e. it’s a little hard to feel too much sympathy for a lot of his characters because they tend to have an almost clinical removal from conventional emotions) and while this does play out well, considering how mainstream this is, maybe Cronenberg should’ve tried for a little more emotional connection than usual.
An attachment does come, but it’s almost too little and too late (happening after the most violent scene in the movie, a vicious fight in a bath house that is probably the most violent thing I’ve seen in a movie all year). It still doesn’t mean that this isn’t a good movie, it is… but it could’ve been quite a bit better had Cronenberg changed up his style a bit. Another change that would’ve worked would’ve been to have upped the pace as well, this is a cautious and deliberate piece which is par for the course for Cronenberg, and it could’ve used a little more of him just taking a chance here or there.
He’s got a tremendous cast at work here, but unfortunately for them, these are all parts that aren’t any real challenge to them, they’ve all played these “types” before. The cast includes Viggo Mortenson as Nikolai (who looks to me more and more like a young Kirk Douglas all the time), Naomi Watts as Anna, Vincent Cassel as Kirill the slightly unbalanced son of the mob boss played by Armin Muehler-Stahl. Again, all are very solid in their roles, without any huge surprises (although to give credit, there is something that happens with one of them that I did not see coming, but it’s not as jolting as it could be).
It’s well made, well crafted, extremely well-acted and yet it misses some sort of punch or “oomph” or something that could’ve raised it up even more. Cronenberg does a fine job with Eastern Promises but it’s almost too safe for him, and it’s a shame, because he can deliver films with a punch, it’s just that most of those have always been in the horror genre. I still recommend this, but for a more patient viewer, if you’re demanding something new every other minute, then this probably won’t be your thing.