Filmmaker David Cronenberg sure likes to see people's throats sliced open. You see a couple of smiling necks gushing tons of blood in this film. There's not that much violence, but the violence you do see is very intense. There's a lot of ominous threats as well as the disposing of frozen corpse all taking place overseas, which makes this a slightly more international version of "Goodfellas" or perhaps "The Godfather."
Viggo Mortensen ("Lord of the Rings") flashes more skin than anything else here, although if you liked "A History of Violence," Mortensen's 2005 film by the same director, then you'll probably enjoy this. A lot of the same tones and themes seem copied and pasted over but only here Mortensen wields a Russian accent, perhaps adding an extra layer of intrigue to further seduce curiosity.
Too bad, that curiosity is wasted on a very talented Naomi Watts ("King Kong" and "The Ring") who gives us only glimpses of an interesting character. I don't blame her. I instead blame bad writing because we're never really given enough of whom this Anna woman is that Watts portrays to care about her. Besides being a grieving mother trying to save a baby if only to come to terms with the loss of her own, her character appears to be only in the movie as a go-between.
There's teenage prostitution, racism and homophobia, all the things that are supposed to let us know that this film is edgy. Yet inter-spliced are scenes of people reading a dead girl's diary as she laments the horrible situation she was in. Having worked with Cronenberg for nearly 30 years, composer Howard Shore's orchestrations are perfectly blended with these scenes to let us know that this film is also sentimental.
Again, as in "A History of Violence," the key revelation comes in the form of the audience discovering Mortensen's motivation, the true history of his character as it were. While in his previous, that history proved more compelling in its lack of surprise than this one does in all of its shock value.
EASTERN PROMISES succeeds as a creepy thriller that makes you somewhat uneasy and keeps you slightly unsure, and Cronenberg does a good job of building suspense, especially in every scene that actor Armin Mueller-Stahl is in, as you can feel the danger that he could unleash underneath his suave, quiet sophistication. He is the Russian Don Corleone.
Regardless of the bloody and violent nude fight scene, which has a birthday-suit-wearing Mortensen not only punching people while being without clothing but also giving high kicks with everything hanging out in full view, the conclusion of the movie leaves you with really nothing. The film is breezed through and wrapped-up in such a way that didn't have me caring for the main characters and more or less scratching my head about Mortensen's.
The brief appearances by Polish actor / filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski who plays Anna's uncle Stepan who hilariously keeps claiming he's with the KGB were more intriguing and a delight than the whole range of the other main players combined.
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for strong brutal and bloody violence; includes some graphic sexuality, language and nudity
Running Time: 1hr. 40 mins.