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</script></div>{/googleAds}After an explosive partnership in A History of Violence, critically acclaimed director David Cronenberg (The Fly, Dead Ringers) and Viggo Mortensen have rejoined creative forces for one of the most hypnotic films of 2007, Eastern Promises. Scraping the bloated underbelly of Russian-emigrated London, Cronenberg's latest mob thriller infiltrates the icy vory v zakone (â"thieves in law") brotherhood with violent precision, delivering a provocatively complex tale of murder, manipulation and duality of the human condition. And like its predecessor, at the core lies an undeniably electric performance by Mortensen, whose portrayal of the silent but deadly chauffeur, Nikolai, has not only earned an Oscar® nomination for Best Actor in a Motion Picture, but effectively slits the throat of his competition.

Borne from a screenplay by Steve Knight (Dirty Pretty Things), the opening scenes of Eastern Promises spill equal blood, but for two very different reasons. In the first, the mentally challenged son of a Russian mob-member is forced to execute an initiatory murder; despite his cries, the unskilled hand saws recklessly as his proud father holds the head. On the other side of town however, a pregnant Ukraine teenager (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse) dies alone during violent childbirth. Desperate to find the baby's next of kin, midwife-Anna (Naomi Watts) searches the unidentified girl's ragged belongings for a clue. Therein, she finds a diary that will converge these two distinct worlds, unleashing a crimson fury within the Russian mafia.

Unable to discern the scribbled foreign hand, Anna turns to her mother (Sinéad Cusack) and Russian uncle Stepan (Jerzy Skolimowski), for translation. But after a cursory review, they refuse to continue - vehemently warning Anna to bury the depraved truth with the dead. â"The Vory is like a contagious disease," she is told. â"There's no cure once they've touched you." Nevertheless, haunted by the recent loss of her own unborn baby, Anna's desperate need to save this child surpasses her family's admonishment, leading her to the only place she can decipher from the foreign journal - the lavish Trans-Siberian Restaurant.

It is there - standing outside on the dark, rain-drenched streets of London - that she meets the owner's driver, Nikolai. Staring intensely from behind black shades, his stance is as unwavering as his allegiance to those inside the restaurant doors, his English as broken as the promises made to young girls who arrive from Russia in search of a better life. But his experience tells him that Anna is not one of these girls; rather, in some weird way, she is like him - an outsider trying to get in. His advances are met with awkward silence, however, Anna's initial revulsion of Nikolai is also met with growing intrigue.

In classic Cronenberg duplicity, Anna is welcomed inside by the elderly Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who after hearing her plight, promises assistance. But when Semyon's abnormal interest in the diary (and Anna's home address) intensifies her apprehension, she discovers that the gentle restauranteur is actually the patriarch of a notorious Russian crime family, whose desperate need to shield both the baby's lineage and the crimes penned by the dead, come at any cost. However, when Nikolai and Semyon's volatile son (and heir-apparent), Kirill (Vincent Cassel), are ordered to silence Anna, unlikely alliances will be formed within the Family, loyalties manipulated, secret motivations revealed and every life touched by the Vory's hand will be left hanging on the edge of violence.

Make no mistake, while this film hinges on Anna's discovery, it is Mortensen's Nikolai who carries us, on his back, through the criminal underworld. A man of few words, his silence is deafening; his gait, mannerisms, and fluid delivery, undeniably Russian; his composure in the face of nauseating brutality, unbreakable; and his defined, symbolically tattooed body, a fearless criminal résumé. His embodiment of the Russian â"Undertaker" who answers a question by extinguishing a cigarette on his tongue, is a chilling image of cinematic evil. And despite a series of truly enviable supporting performances by Watts, Mueller-Stahl and particularly, Cassel - whose tortured attempts to live up to his birthright sets the entire field in motion - it is Mortensen's engrossing Chauffeur who single-handedly shifts Eastern Promises into overdrive.

â"I'm just the driver," he insists, â"I go left, I go right, I go straight - that's it." But fans of Cronenberg know that nothing, not even a one-dimensional character, can evade his signature splice. In fact, that duality of human nature is felt in every dark corner of this film, from the dialect divided streets to the women who walk them. The antithesis of the criminal Russian world, midwife Anna welcomes life while the Vory dispose of it in the Thames. The hardened, masculine facade of men who kneel to no one, becomes threatened by a homoerotic subtext. The women gainfully employed at the maternity ward are confronted with the track-mark and bruise-ridden girls lured to London then forced into an invisible life of slavery. Even the concepts of â"family" and â"respect" are at odds depending upon one's moral code (or lack thereof). But it is the collision of parallel worlds that renders Eastern Promises an impeccably layered and honest film; one that never quite resigns itself to black and white answers - only blood-splattered shades of grey.

Granted, the violence is plentiful, but it's never gratuitous. Perfectly paced at 101 minutes, Cronenberg picks and chooses his battles with care, never sacrificing character evolution or plot development in the name of needless brutality. That being said, one pulse-pounding battle undoubtedly stands out among the rest; one that will not only have you peeking from behind masked eyes, but will leave you exhausted from combat. Symbolically set in a steaming Russian bathhouse where the naked body renders you defenseless, Mortensen is met by two Chechen assassins whom he must duel to the death, donning nothing but the tattoos that define him. Surely not for the faint of heart, definitely not one to be missed.

Like A History of Violence, some will leave Eastern Promises searching for resolve (and thus, screaming for a sequel). Many, however, will find that in Cronenberg-fashion, this film actually speaks volumes in its silence. When Mortensen stands in his underwear before the brotherhood and in a hardened Russian tongue assures them, â"I am dead already...Now, I live in the Zone all the time..." it is a powerfully quiet scene where the walking corpse allows tattoos, rather than words, to reveal his life story. Likewise, when he sits alone flipping worry beads between his fingers, tenderly leaves a religious icon for a hooker he has just violated, looks at Anna with forbidden affection, or is haunted by Tatiana's voice from the grave, it is Cronenberg digging to unearth an often unspoken, sentimental side of evil.

If Eastern Promises vows anything, it is complete immersion into a dark and disturbing criminal underworld, unadulterated violence laced with demoralizing sex, one of the most intensely thrilling performances this year that seizes the dialect, mannerisms and savagery of the Russian mafia with pin-point precision, and a meticulously layered plot that exposes the physical and emotional scars left by a life of violence with brutal honesty. In other words, humanity at its worst but Cronenberg at his absolute best.


DVD Details:

Screen Formats: 1.85:1

Subtitles: English; French; Spanish; Closed Captioned

Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; featurettes.

* Featurettes
o Secrets and Stories
o Marked for Life

Number of Discs: 1 with Keepcase Packaging


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