Monday, 22 October 2012

Russians Like Their Tattoos.

There are a lot of Mafia and mob related movies out there in the world. Gangs films can become cult favourites, like The Warriors, and gangster movies can be regarded as the best films in creation, like The Godfather and The Departed. You would think there would be nothing more that can be done with gangs and the Mafia and you'd be wrong. Every year a couple are released and in 2007 the film we look at today was released. It's called Eastern Promises.

When an unidentified young women dies while giving birth to a baby girl in Anna's (Naomi Watts) ward, Anna takes it upon herself to translate the late mother’s Russian diary to find the correct home for the new born, Christine. After little help from her mother, Helen (SinĂ©ad Cusack), and uncle, Stepan (Jerzy Skolimowski), she stumbles upon a restaurant run by Russians, in which the owner, Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), offers to translate the diary faster than her uncle. What Anna doesn't realise is she’s just handed the diary over to a Russian mob known as Vory v Zakone. Semyon is the head but he has to keep looking out for his son Kirill (Vincent Cassel) and often sends his driver Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) to keep an eye on him. Desperate for answers, Anna tries to appeal to Nikolai’s good side and plead him for help. Unfortunately, due to Kirill rash decisions of revenge, the mob have plenty of issues on their hands, including staying alive.

The Mafia's rendition of Sweeney Todd was a huge hit.

There is fantastic acting throughout the movie. Viggo Mortensen is completely intimidating with his cold character that clearly has a caring and soft side. There is something utterly terrifying about the way he performs and then, as a nice juxtaposition, he suddenly shows he cares for his Russian brothers and even, to some extent, Anna and the baby. In contrast, Vincent Cassel, who is also fantastic, has a lack of care for anyone and everything as Kirill. There is something about Cassel's performance that shows deep hurt and repressed emotions – he is possibly/ quite probably a closeted homosexual – and it really shows throughout the film, peaking towards the end. However, his accent did slip from thick Russian – like the other mob members – to slightly French. Oops. Naomi Watts is also brilliant. Caring and compassionate, but strong willed and does not plan on giving up. A really interesting performance because her relationships with the mob members, particularly Nikolai, are completely engaging despite being completely different characters. The supporting cast are superb. A special mention to Jerzy Skolimowski  for his performance as Stepan; he’s a simple character that makes a big impact on the film.

The least incognito thing about Nikolai's appearance was a simple fact...
Sunglasses in England? As if.
An excellently written script that has some of the most engaging dialogue of the modern film age. The seamless transition between speaking English and speaking Russian adds a layer of simple complexity* and brings a sense of diversity and realism to the film. A lot of films choose the easy option of using one fluent language, but David Cronenberg refused to take the lazy route. A very good choice. The technical elements of the film lacked somewhat. A film of this style and standard needed a little more in terms of score and cinematography. There was a brilliantly choreographed fight scene with a handful of complete male nudity but nothing of real decency was added in in the post-production room. It really needed, in particular, more experimentation in the camera work department. That is what would have made this film a masterpiece in modern gangster movies. 

Overall, a wonderful achievement in Mafia movies as well as British movies. Don't be afraid of the common use of subtitles, this movie is worth reading a little bit. It has something for everyone. After watching, you'll dream of being as cool as Mortensen as Nikolai. (It is heartbreaking when you realise you can't be.)

Best Bit? There's a fantastic scene with Kirill and Nikolai with several hookers and Kirill turns nasty. It shows the loyalty of Nikolai and the brutality of Kirill.

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