“… had another good 20 minutes in it at least.”
When a pregnant 14 year-old stumbles into a corner store, bleeding and barely conscious she is rushed to the hospital where she unfortunately dies giving birth to her child. With no identification on the body the only thing Anna, the nurse who tried to save the girl, has to go on is a diary written in Russian. In her efforts to find the girl’s family, she stumbles into the absolutely terrifying world of the Russian gangsters.
Eastern Promises is one of those movies that I always saw at the video rental store, but I never really had the desire to watch. It wasn’t because anything about it was unappealing, I was just more interested in action movies or comedies. But since It is nearing christmas time, I figured there was no better reason than to watch it. What I found when I watched Eastern Promises was a good movie, but not a great one.
As soon as the film starts, every single character acts as though they are hiding something. They dodge questions and speak in terms so vague that they aren’t really saying anything at all. This was terrifying (as I’m sure it was intended to be), but it was also rather frustrating. I understand that some characters actually were hiding things, but other characters seemed to just want to fuck with people. What I’m saying is, if some characters weren’t such fucking assholes the problems in the film would have been non-existent. Apart from this rather frustrating problem, the writing was pretty good if I do say so myself. I was on edge for a lot of the film, and the story itself was rather interesting. Some of that came from the wonderful cinematography in the film. Eastern Promises used a lot of tight shots, and also very slow creeping pans to build tension throughout the film and it was very effective. One scene in particular that stood out to me was like watching a deleted scene from The Godfather. The way lighting and framing was used not only conveyed the tone of the scene, but it also provided a very tense atmosphere.
A lot of the intensity comes not only from the writing or camerawork, but also the acting. I would say that Eastern Promises features very competent actors, but some characters seem to exhibit writing flaws. For example, the character of Anna (played by Naomi Watts) was kind of lifeless at points. That isn’t a slight against Naomi Watts, because I have seen her deliver amazing performances, but I think it was a problem with the writing of the character. On the opposite side of that you have Vincent Cassel who played Kirill, the son of Russian gang leader Semyon, who delivered a performance so layered and masterful that it sucked me in completely. I mean the emotions that the character had to go through were just so raw, and the performance was nothing short of brilliant. And of course you have Viggo Mortensen who plays Nikolai, but agin I felt the character was very one-note throughout the film. I understand that Nikolai is the kind of guy who would snap your neck without even blinking, but I would have liked to a see a little more range from Mortensen (especially because I know he has it in him).
One thing I really liked about Eastern Promises was the almost hyper-violent nature of the film. I’m not saying that people are exploding every ten seconds in the move, but when someone dies they make sure you feel it. I don’t know that I’ve winced as much as I did while watching Eastern Promises. And then the film outdoes itself with an absolutely stunning fight scene (which I won’t spoil here), where I definitely felt the pain of the characters involved. The way that scene plays out is absolutely amazing, and everyone involved did a great job, but unfortunately it didn’t really save the film for me.
The biggest issue I had with Eastern Promises was the ending. The film set up a lot of stuff right toward the end, but then it was just kind of over. It was like the cinematic equivalent of blue balls. I understand that “we didn’t need to see what happened to understand it”, but when the film sets up this rich story and then ends on a fizzle instead of a bang, I can’t help but be disappointed. And also the very end of the film is rather ambiguous, or at least to me it was. Again, we were given the set up for this moment, but the way it was presented just felt wrong in some way. I felt that Eastern Promises had another good 20 minutes in it at least.
Overall Eastern Promises is a very visceral experience, but one that wasn’t flawless. It had an interesting story, but the writing seemed lacking at times.
I give Eastern Promises a B.