Eastern Promises

Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Sinead Cussack, Donald Sumpter, Jerzy Skolimowski, Raza Jaffrey, Tereza Srbova, Sarah Jeanne LaBrosse, Tatiana Maslany, Yousef Altin, Tamer Hassan, David Papava, Anfrej Borkowski, Gergo Danka, Faton Gerbeshi, Aleksander Mikic, Mina E. Mina, Michael Sarne, Rhodri Miles, Badi Uzzaman

A teenage girl (Sarah Jeanne LaBrosse/Tatiana Maslany) is taken to a hospital, where she dies giving birth. The midwife, Anna (Naomi Watts), is affected by the tragedy of the teenager’s death and takes an interest in the baby daughter. The dead girl has no identification, and Anna takes her diary to try to trace her family, so they can have the baby. Anna cannot read the girl’s Russian handwriting and asks her uncle Stepan (Skolimowski) to translate it. After glancing through the diary, Stepan says that the girl, Tatiana, was mixed up with bad people and advises Anna to forget her. Nikolai Luzhin (Viggo Mortensen), a driver and assistant to volatile Russian hooligan Kirill (Cassel), makes unidentifiable, and helps dispose of, the body of a man Kirill has had killed. Anna, who miscarried her own baby, is endeared by Tatiana’s daughter, whom she names Christina. A card in the diary leads Anna to the Trans Siberian restaurant and its owner, the courtly Semyon. When Anna mentions Tatiana’s diary to Semyon he becomes very interested and offers to translate it. Nikolai meets Anna during her visit to the Trans Siberian restaurant and starts a tenuous relationship that grows gradually into a bond between the two. Stepan relents and provides Anna with a translation of the diary. Tatiana chronicled how she was seduced by promises of a glittering life in the West, into a slave-like situation where drugs were used to keep her docile. A brutal rape, at fourteen, led to her pregnancy. Working for Kirill, Semyon’s dissolute son, Nikolai gains in status within Semyon’s enterprise, a part of a mysterious eastern-European criminal organization called Vory v Zakone (thieves in law) that has gained a foothold in cosmopolitan London. Semyon translates a copy of the diary and tells Anna that some of Kirill’s unsavory activities are disclosed in the text. Revealing a chilling edge beneath his polite veneer, Semyon tells Anna he must have the original. The rapidly unfolding plot has the secrets in Tatiana’s diary, revenge-seeking Chechen assassins, and Semyon’s underlying malice threaten Nikolai and Anna. There are some scenes of violence, but they are not gratuitous, and they illustrate the brutality of the code the Vory v Zakone live by. A knife-fight’s gritty intensity captures the reality of a primordial struggle for survival. In this film, rather than remote and stylized, violent death is shown up-close and personal. As tensions build, Nikolai and Anna must find a solution, for their lives and the baby’s are at stake. Many scenes take place at night, and there is a violent darkness that surrounds Semyon’s organization, but the essence of the film, by showing that dark gruesome crimes do not go unpunished, is uplifting. The acting is superb throughout. Mortensen adeptly conveys the duality of Nikolai, a lethal savior, and Watts is totally fetching and credible as a seeker of justice. Screenplay by Steven Knight.

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