Director: David Cronenberg
Writers: Steven Knight
Staring: Naomi Watts, Viggo Mortensen, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Vincent Cassel
Streaming: HBO MAX
Release Date: September 21, 2007

Eastern Promises is DARK and I LOVE IT. This is not a movie for the faint of heart. Immediately the audience is introduced into a world of blood, betrayal and sadness. Throats being slit and a death during child birth are just the table setters for what is a morbid crime thriller.

Viggo Mortensen plays Nikolai, the driver for a highly ranked and respected Russian family. Nikolai is stoic, quiet and direct. As the movie unfolds he finds himself working towards the center of this family’s business. Befriending the belligerent Kirill (Vincent Cassel) and earning trust of his father Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), Nikolai’s actions (or lack there of) propel the story of Eastern Promises.

Mortensen is engulfing as Nikolai. A man of few words and little expression, Mortensen still finds a way to make the most boring character on paper the most interesting person in every seen. He brings an air of uneasiness and paranoia about him, which draws in Semyon and scarily intrigues Anna (Naomi Watts).

The most talked about scene in Eastern Promises is the bathhouse fight scene between Nikolai and a pair of mercenaries. The melee is revealing (literally), brutal, bloody and brilliant. It is not stylized. Director David Cronenberg rooted the violence in realism and that makes the deaths even more brutal to watch.

There is a major twist at the end of Eastern Promises that sheds new light on Nikolai and his motivations. While I’ll admit to not seeing it coming, it’s hard to get 100% behind. It makes Nikolai both a little more one dimensional but also more respectable and moral.

  • While Nikolai is the star of Eastern Promises, credit to Semyon for putting a nasty foot forward. When Mueller-Stahl uttered “So, you know where I am… and now I know where you are, Anna Ivanovna,” it was a perfect blend of grandfatherly gentleness and hidden menace.
  • Mortensen was on a bad guy appealing to the audience bender during this stretch with Eastern Promises and A History Of Violence (2005).
  • Mortensen was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Nikolai. He lost to Daniel Day Lewis for There Will Be Blood (2007), which may be the best acting ever by the best I have ever seen do it.
  • This is the best of the few David Cronenberg movies I have seen.

Stanko Rating: B+ (4.0/5 Stars)

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