Wednesday, 17 October 2007
LFF: Eastern Promises
Am I the only one who misses the old David Cronenberg? That’s not to say I didn’t love A History Of Violence (I did), but watching the Canadian filmmaker’s latest, the London-set, Russian mafia-centric Eastern Promises, I found myself pinning for the Cronenberg of Scanners, The Brood, Videodrome, even The Dead Zone, all of which I found more affecting than this flawed thriller. Sure there’s plenty to send squeamish viewers hiding behind their hands — throats are slit, fingertips clipped off, and a switchblade poked in an eye — as well as another extraordinary performance from History star Viggo Mortensen. But Eastern Promises feels like compromised Cronenberg not the work of the transgressive, body obsessed director who once had James Woods insert a living, breathing videotape into a vagina-like slit in Debbie Harry’s stomach. Written by Dirty Pretty Things’ Steve Knight, the movie centres on midwife Anna (Naomi Watts) who pockets the diary of a young Russian prostitute who died in childbirth, then asks restaurant-owner/crime boss Semyon (Armin Muller-Stahl) to translate it in order for her to track down the girl’s family; a decision that has life-changing repercussions for all concerned. Touted for its bone-crunching bathhouse battle between Mortensen’s tattooed, naked Nikolai and two Chechen rivals, the film, as you’d expect from Cronenberg, is impeccably crafted, but Knight’s script, which has someone walk out of a central London hospital with a newborn baby hidden in a bag, feels a little obvious, too concerned with exacting moral retribution and tying everything up in a cozy bow.