As Brick was to last week’s The Lookout, a History of Violence is to this week’s Eastern Promises, namely a film wowing mostly down to the utter coolness and confidence of its lead actor. Last week was Levitt, this week it’s Mortenson, a man so effortlessly, silently cool it’s simply flabbergasting. Plus his first name’s Viggo, which isn’t really a name, is it? He’s just so damn cool.
But rather than gush about the lead actor yet again, I’ll go for a different tack. Eastern Promises is David Cronenburg’s follow-up to a 2005 CF Top-10 rated A History of Violence, still keeping the violence jarringly mixed with simple family life, but this time plonking it in London alongside some Russian gangsters. It’s a disturbing world, made more disturbing when you read how much research went into the film and what had to be left out as it may have been “too much”. What’s left in is murder, theft and horrific treatment of women. Oh and that violence thing that Cronenberg does so well.
The story follows Viggo as a driver/minder to Vincent Cassel’s unruly son-of-big-boss, played by crag-faced Armin Mueller-Stahl. Their paths cross with midwife Naomi Watts but to go further into the plot would probably spoil it (as an idiot managed to do for my companion in a thoughtless toilet conversation. Seriously - the worst place to talk about the ending of a film is in the toilet of the cinema. I bet they answered their mobile halfway through the film, too.)
Anyway, at a sprightly 100 minutes, Promises is surprisingly laid-back in pace, taking the time to build characters and finger twisting tension. In typical Cronenburg style, the violence is sporadic but gruesomely effective. Shove your gorno Saw-trite up your arse, this is raw, powerful and, if the less desensitised could watch between their fingers, amazingly shot effects-wise. The stand-out scene in the sauna will stay with you, and kicks the likes of Bourne and Bond right back into fictional la-la-land. Perhaps having a sweaty, naked Viggo makes the scene easier to watch..
Here I go back to my gushing, for Viggo certainly astonishes, with his apparent grasp of Russian (well it sounds pretty good, anyway) and physical presence stealing every scene. Plus the guy’s got a cleft in his chin - a proven sign of genius. The rest of the cast are still strong, and for a film set in London there’s not a single shot of the Eye, possibly a first for the year and a great way not to annoy me.
But Promises isn’t getting the sought-after CF5 rating, so there must be some quibble somewhere. Perhaps the plot could have stretched itself into something even deeper. Perhaps more delving could have gone into Viggo’s fascinating character. Perhaps a less clichéd view of a “gangster family” could have been portrayed (instead of quiet elderly front-man, with lots of food and family parties and piped ’culture-specific’ music). Perhaps Naomi Watts should have stopped wearing those ridiculous goggles on her bike.
Well. This is still a powerful film, with ace performances, a memory-stamping fight scene, some unexpected twirls in the plot and, did I mention, a naked, sweaty Viggo? I feel strongly enough for Eastern Promises to punch through the recent CF2 barrier, making a smashing CF3. Perhaps there’s time for the last stragglers of the year to follow it through? Let’s see…