15 November 2007

Eastern Promises Review

Don't you just hate it when you really want to like a film? When ever inch of it oozes quality and class, and yet somehow you still didn't come away saying 'wow, that was amazing!'. When every fibre of your brain wants you to love this fantastically constructed movie, except that one tiny part, right at the back. The one that's screaming 'there's something missing!'. Eastern Promises is one of those films. I came out of the cinema honestly bewildered as to what I thought about it. So here I am, trying to do my best to write a review. Here goes...

So let's begin at the beggining; story. London, the present day. A young, heavily pregnant girl wanders into a pharmacy and promptly collapses. She manages to survive just long enough for Anna - a Russian/English midwife, played by Naomi Watts - to deliver her baby before she dies from complications. In her purse, there's a diary, written entirely in Russian, and Anna sets out to get it translated. Meanwhile, Nikolai - played by Viggo Mortensen - is working his way up the ranks of the Russian mafia. Suddenly, their stories intertwine and become inexorably linked, heading towards what could become the downfall of the London Russian mafia.

And this is perhaps the short-falling. It's not that it's badly told, or overly confusing - though you do have to have the brain switch set firm to 'On' for the duration. It's just that the story feels...incomplete, somehow. Like...the middle section of a trilogy. Like there's something that your missing at the start, and something that still needs to be told come the end. It just is in dire need of some fleshing out that a 109 minute running time can't do justice to.

Because the thing is, beyond the story, everything is actually superb. The direction is immaculate, and Cronenberg has a way of making this grand tale of gangsters scheming and innocents caught up in their wake seem somehow intimate and small-scale. He also continues his run of incredibly detailed violence. An odd description, yes; but that's the only word that fits. This is violence that makes you wince when it happens, twitch with every slash of a razor blade and cringe with each crunch of bone.

There's one scene that'll totally change your perspective of asking for a hair-dryer, and another which will redfine your defintion of 'cinematic intensity'. The latter being an astonishingly visceral fight scene in a bath house. I won't give much more away, but suffice to say my legs were crossed, and were I a lesser man, I might've hid behind my fingers. But that's perhaps the genius of it, I couldn't wrench my eyes from the screen as it happen. It has a presence that almost demands that you watch, regardless of your constitution, and all credit for that lies with the director.

The other truly noteworthy things about the movie are two of the performances. First, Viggo Mortensen; soaring to new heights of electrifying intensity. He inhabits Nikolai. He is Nikolai. And that, too, is one of the reasons why the aforementioned fight scene demands your attention. He also delivers some of the most darkly funny lines I've ever heard with a creepy smirk that is incredibly unnerving. Then there's Vincent Cassel's sexually ambigous Kirill; Cassel delivering a character that is abhorent and charismatic in equal measures. He's odd, drunk and grinning for half the movie, and the other half he's a devious, scheming bastard with slightly a slightly disturbing light in his eyes. Naomi Watts - looking incredibly craggy and tired without her make-up - delivers the doe eyes and unbridled innocence that is required of the character, and Armin Mueller-Stahl lends his watery tones and shocking blue eyes to Kirill's father Semyon. They're all fascinating in their own ways.

It's just such a shame that the story just seems to stop. But perhaps it's meant to; perhaps it's more of a delving into the culture and situation, rather than a piece of story-telling. Then again, isn't cinema there to tell stories at us? Regardless, it's difficult to say whether or not I truly liked this film. It's sensationally crafted, immaculately framde and wonderfully acted. But it just feels like there should be more, and that is something of a letdown. Recommendable, but don't expect to come out feeling wholey satisfied.

Ross' Rating: 7...maybe 8. No...6. Definitely 7. 8...

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