Eastern Promises

EntertainmentMoviesDeathDrama (genre)Naomi WattsNew Year's DayFilm Festivals

The death of a teenage prostitute causes a British midwife (Naomi Watts) to search for answers within London's Russian mob, leading to a chain reaction of violence and betrayal involving the boss (Armin Mueller-Stahl), his son (Vincent Cassel) and the son’s mysterious and loyal driver (Viggo Mortensen). It all unfolds in the week between Christmas and New Year's Day.

Big question: Does this second teaming of Mortensen and inimitable director David Cronenberg live up to their modern masterpiece, “A History of Violence”?

Catch it: “Promises” isn’t as great as “Violence,” but it’s a deeply satisfying film nonetheless. Impeccably acted, with characters who slowly but surely reveal their inner lives, this contemporary morality play dares to go places most people don’t want to believe even exist and successfully avoids exploiting that milieu for cheap thrills. There's also an unforgettable bathhouse brawl that immediately takes a place among Cronenberg's best and most outrageous sequences (and with this director, that's really saying something).

Skip it: If you’re easily offended by graphic violence or male nudity. Like all of the director’s work, “Eastern Promises” is proudly rated R.

Bottom line: Although it’s worth holding out hope that he’ll return to sci-fi films sometime soon, Cronenberg is on a tear with three consecutive, and wildly diverse, crime dramas (a winning streak that began with 2002’s mind-bending “Spider”). And in Mortensen he’s found the perfect rugged muse for his blood-stained visions.

Bonus:
Actress Sinéad Cusack, who plays Watts' mother, had never worked with Cronenberg prior to the film. But her husband, Oscar winner Jeremy Irons, starred in the director's "Dead Ringers" and "M. Butterfly."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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