After scoring big with Viggo Mortenson in A History of Violence, it was only natural that director David Cronenberg reteam with Mortenson to see if they could create another hit movie with Eastern Promises. Released late last year, the movie arrived and promptly disappeared, but not without gaining a lot of well-deserved recognition. A stylish and suspenseful thriller, the movie received rave reviews until it hit home video shortly there after. This is a movie that deserves an audience, and, hopefully, it will on movie store shelves.
The film follows the mysterious and ruthless Nikolai (Mortensen), who is tied to one of London’s most notorious organized crime families. His carefully maintained existence is jarred when he crosses paths with Anna (Academy Award nominee Naomi Watts), an innocent midwife trying to right a wrong, who accidentally uncovers potential evidence against the family. Now Nikolai must put into motion a harrowing chain of murder, deceit and retribution. Events escalate with murder, mystery and deception, all leading to an explosive, unforgettable ending.
One can’t help but think of A History of Violence when approaching this film. Sharing the same director and leading man, Eastern Promises evokes the same quality brought to A History of Violence, a movie I thoroughly enjoyed. However, don’t expect the same type of movie here. Like that film, this film not only has a lot more going to it than meets the eye, but the characters are also much more involved than we can expect from any trailer we’ve seen, which is typical of any Cronenberg movie. Not everything is what we expect here and, as the movie plays out, we come to accept that, really, anything can happen. Nobody is safe, and the movie excels because of that. Not once will you want to take your eyes off the screen at any time.
Now, there are some scenes that are really intense and can be difficult to watch. Once again, reminiscent of A History of Violence, the violence here is not glorified in any way. It’s brutal, bare, and difficult. However, it sells the honesty of the story and the intensity of what’s going on in the film itself. There’s alot to this story, including a heart-breaking backstory about who Watts is trying to help. I’ll try to avoid any spoilers so you can discover this for yourself. And while the synopsis above may say one thing, it does hold back on more than a couple surprises (even if it does, as these synopsis tend to do) set you up for an ending that you’d be better off just discovering for yourself. And, of course, the performances really sell the movie, too. Mortensen is top notch, as usual, using his rugged good looks to hide his character’s true intentions. Watts manages to hold her own in this tale, even if her accent can get a bit grating from time to time. But that’s a minor quibble in an otherwise flawless and entrancing film.
Sadly, however, the DVD doesn’t live up to the promise of the movie. The disc is nearly bare bones, which is quite disappointing given the wealth of material that is no doubt available concerning the movie’s backstory. We get two brief featurettes, “Secrets and Stories” and “Marked for Life,” which clock in at under twenty minutes. Why no commentary? It seems like a double-dip is undoubtedly on the way at some point in the future, and this bare bones release was issued just to get it out in time for the holidays and to give is a bit of a boost with Oscar season so close at hand. Disappointing, though not unexpected. Thankfully the audio and video is top-notch for a Standard DVD release, though it would have been nice to have great special features to go with it.
Regardless of the bare bones release, Eastern Promises is a great film that comes Recommended. Not only is it a great movie to check out, but one that is worth revisiting, like most Cronenberg films. It fits firmly beside A History of Violence as some of Mortensen’s best work to date, showing his range and his commitment to a role. It’s a film that’s worth owning, even if a double-dip seems inevitable at this point. A criminally overlooked movie, this film definitely deserves a second chance on home video.
Eastern Promises is now available on DVD and HD-DVD.