Eastern Promises (2007)
Cert: 18 / 99 mins / Dir. David Cronenberg / Trailer
So, David Cronenberg's tale of the Russian Mafia in London (his second film so far in this ongoing season) turns out to be nowhere near as difficult to watch as I'd feared. Sadly, it turns out to be nowhere near as interesting as I'd hoped, either.
There's the feeling (particularly towards the end of the film) that an intricate story of corruption, vice, family loyalties and power would have worked better laid out as a four-part TV drama, and that the extra screen-time that format allowed would make for stronger character building as a result. The gangsters that make up the film's principal movers feel like crudely drawn stereotypes here (although I've seen many worse portrayals in more recent years). On one hand, Cronenberg would like the audience to marvel at how 'real' everything is, but the then undercuts this by having his Russian-speaking mobsters talking in English to each other most of the time. Actual Russian scripting would have helped greatly with the authenticity, especially since the mumbled dialogue itself necessitates having the subtitles on throughout the runtime, anyway. Additionally, having your three main Russian characters played by German, French and American/Danish actors doesn't really help matters, either. I get the impression that Cronenberg was basically fine with how everyone sounded as long as it was 'foreign'.
Conversely, succeeding on the accent-front is Naomi Watts (already given a head-start by being Australian) as a troubled midwife from London who gets mixed up in the Russian power struggle after delivering a baby whose mother, an illegally-immigrated, coerced sex worker, dies at the same time. This, sadly, the accent is the only area in which Naomi succeeds. I like Watts, but she's really not that good an actress, and her default 'glazed' expression is used to its full extent in Eastern Promises, exacerbated by the fact that her role in the screenplay as the bridge between regular 'civilian' life and the unseen, seedy underworld seems to be treated as an afterthought after the first ten minutes of the movie. The naivety that should endear her character to the audience only serves to make her more irritating.
The only time Cronenberg ever seems to come into his own as a director is the infamous brawl-scene in the sauna-baths, and the fighting is presented with a surgical precision that the characterisation sorely needs.
Eastern Promises is a frankly ordinary film, made by an extraordinary film-maker. In the hands of a more 'human' director, the film's inhuman characters could have flourished more...
(Oh, and that baby would clearly have been born with a heroin addiction, yet this isn't even mentioned in the script.)
It didn't play at my local cinema, and it's not really the sort of cheery Saturday-night-fare you choose at random, so no.
Yes, although I don't feel I've gained much from it.
Only as part of a season of similar films, I think.
Naomi Watts starred in 2013's The Impossible alongside Obi-Wan Kenobi himself, Ewan McGregor..
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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