Friday, November 02, 2007

Russian Ruffians

Eastern Promises, Cineworld Broad Street, Birmingham, Saturday October 27 2007, 6.10pm.

Let's get the trivia out of the way first: Eastern Promises is the first film that David Cronenberg has directed outside of his home country Canada. It also re-unites him with his A History Of Violence leading man Viggo Mortensen in a tale set amongst the bloc-rocking beasts of Russian mobsters running amok in a gangland war in London.

Brummie Steven Knight's screenplay eschews potential topical twists of football-club takeovers and atomic dust cappuccino sprinklings for the more old-school thrills of knives, tattoos and family loyalty. The use of set-pieces such as barber-shop throat-slittings and bath-house brawls threaten to plunge the project into mundane, anachronistic territory but the film is salvaged by the usual stylistic sang-froid Cronenberg delivers to the gory violence, and another iconic performance from Mortensen. The latter relishes a role which gives him the opportunity to display both physical and moral superiority while beating and stabbing the shit out of everyone who dares cross his path, recalling the stoic splendour of a Charles Bronson or Burt Lancaster in their pomp as he does so.

Naomi Watts, on the other hand, is an actress you'd consider destined to play a memorable role in a Cronenberg film, but this isn't it as she tries hard but gets lost in a thankless role of a curious and compassionate midwife that's the kind of one-dimensional ingenue turn she should by rights have left behind her after Mulholland Dr.. This under-written role and the sparsity of memorable whip-smart dialogue works against a film which manages to keep the interest going throughout, sparks into genuine excitement here and there, but lacks the clean, formal brilliance of its predecessor A History Of Violence.

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