Eastern Promises
You know, you look a lot like that guy from “Lord of the Rings”.

Golden Mug

Director (David Cronenberg)

Theatrical Release Date: 09/14/2007
Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Vincent Cassel

Director David Cronenberg had a lot to live up to after releasing “A History of Violence” in 2005. I proclaimed it the Best Picture of the year in my annual Golden Mug Awards and named him best director as well.

With “Eastern Promises”, Cronenberg again teams up with Viggo Mortensen, only this time he’s traded in the Philly mafia for the Russian variety and shifted it to London from the American east coast.

Thankfully, this isn’t just a locale shift a la Woody Allen with “Match Point“.

No, “Eastern Promises” transports us to the seedy underside of London where crafty old Armin Mueller-Stahl heads up the London arm of the Russian Mafia. Mortensen is the driver/bodyguard for his son Vincent Cassel and my personal choice as the best actress in film today, Naomi Watts, plays a hospital worker that gets swept up into their world in the wake of a heinous crime.

What I like so much about this and the aforementioned “A History of Violence” is that these films are made for adults. This isn’t about how Shia LeBeouf can save the world and get the girl fifteen times out of his league.

And let me be clear to warn you that there are some brutal violent acts in the film. Sure, the ladies may enjoy a fully naked Viggo but they might not like him so much covered in blood … this isn’t quite Christian Bale in “American Psycho” … however, it’s a lot more revealing.

Brutality aside, what I like about Cronenberg’s latest works is the way he paces out the character development. The characters are formed like clay on a potter’s wheel. It’s not as simple as saying that one thing led to another, there are steps in between that shape people.

I will say though that I prefer how he did it in “A History of Violence” and while I hate to keep using it as the reference, it seems the most apropos. In relation to that, I have two big complaints with “Eastern Promises” which keep it from attaining that most glorious of ratings.

First, the film is predictable. If you haven’t figured things out a third of the way into the film, you should stop re-watching Michael Bay films and check out some of the films that make my Top Films of the Year lists.

My other complaint is that by the last quarter of the film, the movie really begins to drag. Since you have probably already figured everything out, it seems so anticlimactic to postpone the finale.

Still, Cronenberg is one of the best at ending a film where it should end, not in some cheesy, schmaltzy camera crane shot over the river but right where things could turn either way. It’s nice to have a film whose ending isn’t necessarily spelled out. You may think you know how it’s going to go but there are equal reasons to move the action the other way.

Also, the performances in the film are top notch. Viggo plays a terrific, tattooed badass, Watts is so engaging and wonderful all without it seeming forced and Mueller-Stahl plays a fantastic crime boss. It is their sincerity and ability that make films like this work … if it had been Freddie Prinze Jr. and Rachael Leigh Cook starring in the film, you could have ordered up some Razzies for dessert.

I do wish the projectionist had decided to focus the film so it was a little annoying to have a slightly blurry film to watch but the product was good enough to transcend even that. I’m giving “Eastern Promises” a 4 out of 5 and if you’re looking for a film targeting people over the age of 17, then look no further. Otherwise, I’m sure you can hop into nearly any other theater and see what you’re looking for.