In the lead up to the 7th Canadian Film Festival in Australia (August 2012), join us as we countdown the Top 100 Canadian Films of the past 30 years. We'll be posting one film a day leading up to Canada Day on July 1st 2012. Do you agree with our team favourites? Let us know your thoughts!
#15 - Eastern Promises
For his first film shot exclusively outside Canadian borders, Eastern Promises is so taut, gripping and masterfully controlled that David Cronenberg has rarely felt more at home. His second consecutive collaboration with Viggo Mortensen following A History of Violence, this gritty Russian mob tale set in London’s seedy criminal underbelly is very much its own viscera-splattered beast, but as a character study makes a compelling companion piece.
When a pregnant Russian teen enters a pharmacy before collapsing in her own blood, she’s rushed to the local hospital where doctors and midwife Anna (Naomi Watts) manage to successfully deliver her baby before she passes. The discovery of the deceased girl’s diary throws fuel on the circumstantial mysteries of who, how and why, leading Anna to the door of the Trans-Siberian restaurant and its proprietor Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl). As the journal is translated and Semyon’s interest in its content grows increasingly dubious, Anna finds herself further entrenched in a nightmarish world of rape, murder and betrayal.
Watts, complete with flawless British accent, gives a fine performance in spite of her character’s occasionally grating naivety, but it’s the leading men who render you unable to flinch from Eastern Promises’ confronting content. Mueller-Stahl plays Semyon’s devolution from twinkly-eyed grandfather figure to monstrous patriarch with unsettling menace, while as his son and indoctrinated evildoer Kirill, Vincent Cassel works tirelessly to earn the measure of redemption he enjoys during an emotionally raw conclusion on the banks of the Thames.
In the character of Eastern Promises’ shadowy chauffeur, Viggo Mortensen loses himself utterly and fearlessly. “I’m just a driver,” is Nikolai’s refrain, when his ability to meticulously process corpses, casually extinguish cigarettes on his tongue and nudely dispatch assassins – as seen in the legendary steam room smack down – suggest anything but. Charming, lethal, methodical; it’s an intricately layered performance that leaves you in no doubt that there’s far more to Nikolai than the slick-haired heavy that meets the eye.
His complexity is only further confirmed when the true nature of Nikolai’s underworld involvement is revealed, the stage is set for the driver cum undertaker to become mafia king and the way perfectly paved for the currently gestating follow-up. Its dark heart beating with eastern promise; for once, there’s a sequel worth making.
- Tristan Burke
"If you don't mind bloodshed and are drawn to taut thrillers with fascinating characters portrayed skillfully, Eastern Promises is just the ticket." Claudia Pig - USA Today
To see the other films in the countdown so far, click here.