Eastern Promises

Easter Promises (2007) movie poster

(2007) dir. David Cronenberg
viewed: 09/14/07 at AMC Loews Metreon 16 with IMAX

I didn’t come around to David Cronenberg as early on as I should have.  Don’t ask me why, I don’t really know. Between Dead Ringers (1988), which I didn’t appreciate at the time, Naked Lunch (1991), and Crash (1996), I was thinking that he was really overrated.  And then with some turning point, whatever it was, I started watching his earlier films, Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977), and Scanners (1991) and came back around to the guy.  He is certainly an auteur, whose whole breadth of work helps to appreciate lesser efforts, and while I don’t know if he truly has anything I would call a masterpiece”, I like many people, thought that his 2005 film A History of Violence was pretty damn good.

And he’s followed it up here, again with Viggo Mortensen in the lead, with a less supernatural, less surreal, more straightforward narrative, a genre flick about crime and the criminal underworld.  It’s an interesting comparative piece to A History of Violence, partially or perhaps namely because of Mortensen as the lead, a man with a past, one heavily imbued with violence.  And violence is really the most powerful segment of this film.

The fight scene in the London bathhouse, with a totally naked Mortensen defending himself against two besuited Chechen thugs, armed with some fierce-looking little knives.  It’s highly brutal, with the audience gasping and then laughing at themselves for enduring such gruesome acts and cuts.  There is something quite primal in it, in Mortensen’s naked body, tousseling, slamming to the floor, being stabbed, thrashed, kicked.  Indeed, it’s a scene that will be talked about, I reckon, for years to come and will be the most pointed to aspect of this film.

Mortensen is very good, as  is Naomi Watts, and the film itself is a pretty solid affair.  I think that it perhaps doesn’t achieve utter brilliance.  There is something less-riveting than one might hope.  But it is a good film, for certain.  And maybe, much like taking the bulk of Cronenberg’s work, themes, and ideas together, this film will be well doubled up with A History of Violence, for its tone and themes, and its usages of violence.  Cronenberg gets a lot out of the gore, a lot more than many other directors would get with much more blood and slicing.  He makes you feel it, but not for a thrill or a scare, but because it has meaning, real or not, it has an inherent quality to the story, and it shocks largely because Cronenberg knows how to throw a punch (or slit a throat, one might say more literally).

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