Eastern Promises (2007)

I wavered on seeing Eastern Promises in theaters. The good reviews, for the film in general and Viggo Mortensen’s performance in particular, made me want to see it. The allusions to its extreme violence deterred me. I compromised, and finally watched on dvd. This is a good film, well-directed and well acted, not only by Mortensen. The story has to be read as a sort of fable, since its particulars are so familiar: a talented poor outsider (Mortenson) works his way up the power structure when a seemingly paternal but actually cruel leader (Armin Mueller-Stahl) is increasingly disappointed in his own son (Vincent Cassel), while a beautiful blond woman (Naomi Watts) toils for justice. Moses, Jesus, and the intervening two millennia have supplied similar setups; I was reminded much of Braveheart. Much of the film’s tension rested on creating horror at the fate of a 14yo girl, and fear for the fate of a baby. These devices felt tired to me as well. The violence is extreme. I spent several scenes looking at the ceiling or through interlaced fingers. But the full-frontal scene of Mortensen, in case you were curious, was more astonishing to me for what he did while nude than for the nudity itself. It truly was a case of the nudity serving the scene and the story. Overall, the particulars–Naomi Watts as a concerned bystander, Mortensen as a taciturn mystery man, and the intrigue and complexity of the Russian mob scen–combine to transcend the simplistic features of the story.

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