Jul 2008 31

Eastern Promises (2007)

Gruesome, dark, harsh, extremely painful, powerful and hopeful—all begin and ultimately describe the emotional and visual impact of viewing Eastern Promises a recent release from director, David Cronenberg. Actor Vigo Mortensen, of Lord of the Rings and History of Violence fame is Nikolai Luzhin, an undercover police officer trying to infiltrate a ruthless Russian Mafia family operating in London.

Murder victims are appearing with distinct tattoos, signs of torture and mutilation, which are traced back to the Russian Mafia family headed by Semyon, played by veteran actor Armin Mueller-Stahl. Semyon runs a restaurant as a front for his criminal element in London.

The death of a pregnant Russian teenager in childbirth brings the attention and involvement of Anna, an on-duty hospital midwife. Anna, played by Naomi Watts, is concerned for the infant that is left behind and wants to track down relatives of the deceased teenager. She discovers a diary written in Russian and a business card from Semyon’s restaurant. Anna goes there and meets with Semyon trying to find a connection to the teenager. When Anna mentions she has a diary from the dead teenager, suddenly Semyon seems more than interested in helping Anna translate the Russian text into English. As it turns out, Anna is staying with relatives who can translate the Russian script and discover that the teenager was raped by Semyon and was provided drugs and abuse from the Russians.

As this is playing out, Semyon’s party-animal son, Kirill, is getting into trouble and embarrassing the father. Nikolai is Kirill’s driver and bodyguard, but is also trying to protect Kirill from himself and his father Semyon who is growing impatient with Kirill’s mistakes. One mistake in particular gets the movie into high gear with a spectacular steam room fight scene where Nikolai is attacked by two thugs who mean to avenge a previous killing related to Kirill’s action against a rival Russian gang member. Just before this attack in the steam room, Nikolai is initiated into the gang by expressive Russian tattoos that depict his rank and stature within the Russian Mafia. It must be said that the frontal and rear nudity exhibited by Viggo, AKA Nikolai, is such that stop action would be required to catch a glimpse of the Lord of the Schlongi. He was fighting for his life and so was kicking, and flipping and punching and dodging—such that a sketch artist would be hard pressed to render what was essentially a blur to the roving eye. You had to be there and you can be if you get the DVD to this finely acted and well directed crime solver, revenge and avenging movie.

Eastern Promises does show a promising afterthought, maybe suggesting a sequel. Nikolai is well established in the Russian Mafia and Anna and the baby, Christine, named after the Christmas season, have moved on but do have linkage to their savior and protector, Nikolai. See this movie for the drama. Nikolai has a striking resemblance to a scary Elvis Presley with pompadour, fly sunglasses and an anorexic face that carries a Skeletor smile. He’s worth a watch.



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