Another gory mafia story from David Cronenberg, this time set not in America's heartland but in the Russian immigrant community of
London. Eastern Promises stars Viggo Mortensen as a limo driver and hired muscle for the mob whose life gets very complicated when a young woman is raped and murdered, but not before she leaves behind some crucial evidence that could tie the crime to the mob -- her newborn baby. She also leaves behind a diary, which falls into the hands of a
London midwife, played by Naomi Watts. Whereas A History of Violence had a strong forward momentum and a relatively streamlined story, Eastern Promises is sprawling, with more characters to juggle, crosses and double-crosses to keep straight and the kind of attention to detail -- there's a whole Russian mafia 'making' ceremony, for example -- that some will find interesting and others will find tedious. It's a dense, tightly-wound and plotty picture that stops here and there for a bit of blood-curdling violence that will have undoubtedly some audience members on the verge of throwing up.
The film's cast does a uniformly fine job, with Viggo Mortensen never letting his accent slip. Even though we know intellectually that he's putting it on, we can still persuade ourselves to buy him as a Russian import from a tougher, more heartless culture where being the least-talkative person in the room is always some kind of sign of good sense. I especially liked his habit of plunking down his cigarettes wherever he finishes them, which says more about his underlying character than a lot of the dialogue he's given. Among the rest of the cast, Vincent Cassel is a standout as Kirill, the boss's son who thinks he can slap around anyone he wants with impunity and expects to inherit his father's empire.
Cassel has been turning in good performances for years and doesn't get nearly as much credit as he deserves, but hopefully more roles in high-profile films like this one will fix that. As for Naomi Watts, she has a more or less thankless role as the straight woman reacting to events around her and trying to protect the baby.