Eastern Promises (2007)

Does Russia ever want tourists to visit them?

The film follows and centres on the story of a London hospital’s midwife Ana (Naomi Watts) who witnessed the death of a young girl in giving birth on Christmas Eve and decided to search for her family and identity. The search leads her into the core of dangers of the underground sex-trafficking business operated by the London’s Russian crime community headed by Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen).

I’ve been covering David Cronenberg flicks pretty frequently now and I’m glad to say that I think I’m starting to understand him a lot more now. Actually, no I’m not. Just bring on the blood dammit!

After A History of Violence came out and sort of took the world by storm, Cronenberg was looking for his next big crime film that would do the same and he pretty much does the same thing here, except everybody is Russian. What I liked about Cronenberg’s direction here is that he allows the story to tell itself and rather than spelling everything out for us, simply gives us a back-story to all that is going on and what could possibly happen with all of these gritty sons-of-bitches. This means that there is enough time for all of the tension to build up, so when Cronenberg does unleash his killing spree for all of us to see, it really feels deserved.

There aren’t many of the scenes where Cronenberg just lets loose with his violence, but when it does happen, shit gets very crazy and gory. I can’t remember the last time that I actually saw a film with so many slit throats but instead of becoming repetitive and a boring way to off somebody, Cronenberg pretty much adds as much ketchup as he can to make it seem like every single blood cell this guy has, is coming right out of his throat. Sorry for all of the bloody detail but it’s something that sticks with you after you see this kind of flick, as well as a scene where a dude gets his eye-ball stabbed. It’s all fun and games with Cronenberg, with plenty of blood and murder to go around.

However, the one violent scene that I heard everybody talking about when this first came out, was actually the big-ass brawl in the bathhouse. Basically, the scene consists of Viggo facing off against two Russian thugs but the catch here, is that Viggo’s completely naked. And when I mean naked, I mean NAKED. You see everything that this dude’s got packing and as daring as it may have been from Viggo, it’s still a huge distraction from the whole scene itself. The choreography is pretty bad-ass and the violence itself is filmed well, with Cronenberg standing off to the side and not trying to add any flash or flair to it all, but it’s sort of distracting when you got Viggo on top of a dude beating the shit out of him and all you can keep staring at is his balls on the dude’s chest. Yes, it’s a pretty daring and different kind of action scene, but it”s also one that really could have been saved had Viggo decided to put some shorts on. Hell, he didn’t even really need shorts, he could have gone with something like spandex or just some sort of leg wear that would have gotten my eye-balls away from his…well..you know where I’m going with this.

Aside from the infamous scene that he took apart of, Viggo Mortensen is actually pretty damn good in this role as Nikolai and definitely deserved the Oscar nomination he got that year. Viggo is always one of those actors who just always seems like a bad-ass in just about everything he’s in, and he gets to show all of that here as a Russian gangster, except one of the rare ones that actually has a conscience. He’s rough, tough, and a dude that you wouldn’t fuck with but if you really feel like you could, you could probably even trust him as well. Great performance from Viggo and another extra kudos to him for going out and baring it all. Lord only knows I sure as hell wouldn’t have been able to pull that off.

Naomi Watts‘ performance here as Anna is fine but her story starts to really fall in the background by about the second act, and it’s such a shame because Watts seems pretty much one-note the whole time. I mean this is a chick who can make distressed and scared look perfect, but that’s all she is pretty much given here and as much as I loved seeing Viggo be cool as hell, I would have liked to see. more from Watts and her story as well. Playing two of Viggo’s crime buddies are Armin Mueller-Stahl and Vincent Cassel, and as good as they are, their fake Russian accents seemed a little forced and really took me away from the authenticity of the flick. I know I sound like a brat with that last statement but honestly, if Cronenberg was having such a problem with being able to get these guys to do legit, Russian accents, they should have just freakin’ called up Dolph Lundgren. End of story people!

Consensus: Eastern Promises definitely delivers on some solid acting from Viggo Mortensen, and a solid direction from David Cronenberg, but it also lacks in a story that can really draw you in and the last act or so, really starts to fizzle out.



  1. I think you may have missed why Mortensen was naked, with you being distracted and all. 🙂 The idea is to put him in as vulnerable a position as possible. A man can’t get any more vulnerable to an assault as when he is completely naked, with everything just hanging out there easy to cut off. Without that the scene would be far less scary. I’d put this scene right there with The Crying Game as ones where nudity is essential to the film.

    • The whole idea of him being vulnerable is understood, but I didn’t fully get caught-up in it and I think it was just that Viggo’s dong got in my face a bit too much. Still, though, it’s a smart scene.

  2. First off, great review. I do enjoy this film.
    Second, I think the bathhouse fight is great and think it goes to seemingly defenseless man though I can see why it might distract.
    Watts’ character may not have the fullest backstory, but I believe she is engaging nonetheless. Viggo is strong in this role. Nice post. 😉

  3. Yeah what’s three deal with films like this and Transsiberian making Russia seem like such a scary place? This movie sounds incredibly raw and graphic. Though I haven’t seen it, I can understand what others are saying about the naked fight scene being about the character being vulnerable. Surprisingly I don’t think I’ve watched any Cronenberg. I should fix that.

  4. I really love this movie. It would be somewhere in the latter half of my top 100 movies. The only real fault I have with it did start to fizzle out near the last act. I thought the enidng was playing it a bit safe. Everyhting else worked for me. Good and as always entertaining review!

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