David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (U.K.-Can-U.S. / 2007)

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David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (U.K.-Can-U.S. / 2007)

Postby arsaib4 » Thu Oct 18, 2007 11:08 pm

[From TIFF '07]



I was hoping that wpqx would, as they say, "take care" of Eastern Promises, the latest from Canadian master David Cronenberg, but hes seemingly very busy. My situation currently isnt much better, which is the primary reason why Ive decided to simply add a few notes instead of a traditional review.

*As was the case with A History of Violence (2005), Eastern Promises didnt derive from the beautiful mind of Cronenberg. And the original script -- about Eastern European human trafficking -- by British scribe Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things [2002]) was initially intended for BBC television. Needless to say, however, quite a few changes were made once Cronenberg came on board.

*The aforementioned Stephen Frears effort and Eastern Promises are both situated in London and deal with clandestine subcultures. In the latter, its prominently groups of "Russian" expats who have pursued radically different lifestyles from one another in their new homeland. "When you have a culture thats embedded in another, theres a constant tension between the two," Cronenberg recently stated. "In the U.S. the melting pot was supposed to mean you come and you absorb American values. But in Canada and England the idea of multiculturalism was something else. At its worst its you come and you live there, but you live in a little ghetto of your own culture that you brought with you. I suppose thats happening in the States with the Spanish language. Can multiculturalism really work? I dont know, but its an interesting study."

*In both A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, Viggo Mortensens character compass remains in transition, though ambiguously so. (Here, he plays Nikolai Luzhin, a chauffeur/fixer for a crime family.) Ostensibly, the new film is so simple and generic that it could pass for a Christmas story (with a miracle, et al.). So, as Jim Hoberman of The Village Voice has pondered: "Is our Nikolai an angel, or has Anna [Naomi Watts; a half-Russian midwife who comes upon the personal diary of a young victim] made a deal with the devil?" With that in mind, the final moments of the film subtly impart another tragedy, one whose casualty also has a tendency to mark the travails.

*Mortensens commitment to the project and his character alone deserves recognition. He reportedly went to Russia for research -- "My goal was to make sure my character had a particular class, an ethnic and geographical background. I worked really hard on translating the slang and getting the body language right" (Mortensen) -- even though the film is wholly set in the U.K. Vincent Cassel, who plays the violent and sexually insecure son of a crime boss, is equally effective (hes also the catalyst for the films homoerotic subtext); for once its good to see this very capable actor not embarrassing himself in an international production.

*Cronenbergs career-long fascination with the human body certainly makes its presence felt. In Eastern Promises, Mortensens "identity" in inscribed on his skin, and, depending on the situation, both serves as a protective armor and an irrevocable blemish. (The much-discussed fight sequence in a Russian bathhouse [where "you can see (the other mans) tattoos] truly needs to be seen to be believed.)

*The well-lit domestic sequences involving Anna, her mother, and her ex-KGB uncle (Jerzy Skolimowski) may not play very smoothly but are quite revealing, nonetheless. While the reasoning behind Annas dedication to a newborn is made fairly explicit, what isnt perhaps is her disposition. In one of the scenes, her uncles off-the-cuff remark about interracial couples is followed by another more politically correct one, but in this process we do learn a little about Anna, and after also taking in her wardrobe and other accessories, we could possibly deduce that shes a tad more defiant than your average midwife. Not surprising, then, that her interest in Nikolai is obvious from the very beginning, and it's not simply due to his association with the family hes employed by.

When its all said and done, A History of Violence may have a longer life span than Eastern Promises -- but that shouldnt necessarily be taken as a negative. The former simply wrestles with larger, more pertinent issues. The latter also isnt helped by the fact that its setting is neutral, which makes its politics rather quaint in comparison. But once again, Cronenberg has been triumphant in subverting seemingly innocuous material.

Grade: B+
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*The film had its World Premiere at Toronto; it won the fest's People's Choice Award.

*Related: David Cronenberg THREAD.
arsaib4
 


Re: David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (U.K.-Can-U.S. / 2007)

Postby arsaib4 » Mon Dec 24, 2007 3:06 am

The DVD from Universal comes out on December 26. Two short featurettes -- Secrets and Stories and Marked for Life -- are included as extras. (A perfect holiday movie for the entire family. )
arsaib4
 

Re: David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (U.K.-Can-U.S. / 2007)

Postby wpqx » Mon Dec 24, 2007 3:23 am

I'm most certainly looking forward to it.
wpqx
 

Re: David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (U.K.-Can-U.S. / 2007)

Postby justindeimen » Sat Dec 29, 2007 9:25 am

Review:

When Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) stands bare and initiated in front of an unsavoury conclave of old men, his heavily tattooed physique and scarred form disclose a imperative of duty and an identity given in a city that holds none. The arcane nature of Nikolais shadowy being brings about lines of honour and undead servitude, a testimony of corruption through an examination of physical transformations and the concept of the self. The disfigurement of the frame also wretches the spirit as David Cronenberg typically queries the relationship between the body and soul. The question emerges: Who are these men that feed on others? The vampiric cabal feasts on the citys death and its overwhelming despair, and only those who have truly revoked humanity are inducted into their sphere.

In Cronenbergs masterful Eastern Promises, London is presented as a teeming hive of ethnic and ethical tensions fueled by the cultural isolation of its displaced immigrants. The turmoil beneath its temperate exterior is palpable; a rumple felt only when a corpse is thrown into the Thames as another surfaces, bringing with it a cache of buried secrets. Russian blood is spilt simultaneously, the last of which brings a dead teenage prostitutes newborn to midwife Annas (Naomi Watts) care as an intermittent narration from the dead girls diary reveals a quaint concept of sympathy that is only shown to only those that deserve it.

From hamburgers to caviar, Cronenberg crosses the same themes and inquiries that he explored in A History of Violence, intriguingly casting the stupendously virile Mortensen and then incisively inflicting the same sorrow on the fractured personalities and tortured moralities of his taciturn characters. Slick and severe with a lurking mood of insinuating hostility behind every corner, the one thing scarier than the presence of evil is the absence of anything at all. The cold void left behind in all-American family mans Tom Wells as he finally sat down at the dinner table is transported to the grunge of inner city London, where Nikolai waits as a driver (among other things) outside a tranquil Trans-Siberian restaurant, a swanky shroud for its venal cults within. With a wry and cynical sense of humour, Nikolai is deadly aware of the world he operates in and he traverses it with a brutal intelligence. Mortensens angular features and sturdy physicality once again serve to accentuate these moral ambiguities and add to the edge of his fascinating character in a completely ravishing performance of technique and control.

Cronenberg retains the clinically intense sensibilities of violence and its acceptance from his previous film and ups the ante here with even more memorable set pieces. Injecting the incongruent melodrama of the screenplay from Steven Knight (writer of another London-based migr themed, Dirty Pretty Things) with fluidity and verve, Cronenberg puts physical vulnerabilities before emotional ones. Even through the flourishes of explicit violence, he maintains an aloof velocity of motion and precision that while rigidly formal in its explosive rage, also surveys its images with ambivalent guile. He takes the mobster genre and removes the romanticism of unspoken brotherhood and strained lines of its cryptic inner world by focusing on its various characters seemingly stoic responses to their environment and their own perpetual criminality by constantly stripping away to reveal more instances of truth.

The father-son combo that rounds off Nikolais nucleus in the vory v zakone (the Russian mafia) is the uncompromising godfather, Semyon (a strong performance by Armin Mueller-Stahl) who controls his family with fear rather than respect, and Semyons volatile progeny Kirill (Vincent Cassel). Both prominently entwined in its backstory of modern flesh trafficking together with Watts underappreciated tidal waves of guilt and complexities that relate to the newborn and the untranslated document of suffering that binds them together. But Nikolai emerges as Cronenbergs sincerest preoccupation, a study of a man guarded with surreptitious anguish whose only reprieve from Cronenbergs contemplation of personal horror is a penultimate shot that is as blistering a shot of familial guardianship as you are likely to find anywhere in his oeuvre.
justindeimen
 

Re: David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (U.K.-Can-U.S. / 2007)

Postby R6dw6C » Sun Dec 30, 2007 5:55 pm

Your reviews display both a point of view that is very different from mine, arsaib and justin. But that's why it was fascinating to read them in peace. I watched it this morning and what impressed me most (I have to confess that I were a little bit tired) was the complete but subtle turn of Cronenberg from a life-long lasting series of "guilty" films to a work that evokes an elegy for pure innocence in the characters. Cronenberg deflorated the self-confidence and the Instinct within human sense so much over almost three decades and now, he faces with the total opposite. But he didn't get completely rid of his popular trademarks and the physics of his earlier films changed to a gambling with sensual surfaces and arrangements of people with their environment (at least, in some remarkable Scenes). The whole film was so magnificently sublime but in a very specific way that was mostly far from a study about human behaviour patterns (is this word correct?) and more spiritual but yet, also very naturalistic without being realistic. Ah, it's difficult to get it clear when you're tired. But yes, it's a marvellous piece of Cinema and indeed one of the most remarkable films of 2007. And almost all of the actors where absolutely stunning - maybe except of Naomie Watts who's been better in the past. "Eastern Promises" is most interesting in the context of Cronenberg's whole Oeuvre but less interesting as a stand-alone film, imo. (23 out of 25)

By the way, a funny anecdote: Armin Mller-Stahl dubbed himself in the (surprisingly good) German version and each time when his character Semyon raises his voice (especially in the scene where he's angry about the murder his son commited), he didn't really manage to keep the russian accent and starts to speak German fluently without any accent.
R6dw6C
 

Re: David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (U.K.-Can-U.S. / 2007)

Postby justindeimen » Sun Dec 30, 2007 6:28 pm

This is great

An acquaintance of mine has also shared his changing perceptions on Cronenberg recently by saying he's lost his edge and is now being led around by Big Central Themes and is basically cruising on his reputation. I disagree with him of course, but I don't know if I would say he's subtly turned into a more pensive purveyor of gentle humanness. I found evidence of this in The Fly when he allowed the sadness of the human core be stated. Perhaps its always been there. Or perhaps the fact he's worked on 2 similar films now by source materials other than his own has indeed given him more to flesh out.
justindeimen
 

Re: David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (U.K.-Can-U.S. / 2007)

Postby arsaib4 » Mon Dec 31, 2007 2:53 am

"An acquaintance of mine has also shared his changing perceptions on Cronenberg recently by saying he's lost his edge and is now being led around by Big Central Themes and is basically cruising on his reputation."

I don't see such implication anywhere in R6dw6C's post (or in mine, for that matter).

________________

"Your reviews display both a point of view that is very different from mine, arsaib and justin."

And to me our point-of-views seem pretty much the same. Despite the fact that "masterful" is an adjective I associate with A History of Violence, not Eastern Promises, as it's obvious from my post/grade, I do admire the latter quite a bit.

"But he didn't get completely rid of his popular trademarks and the physics of his earlier films changed to a gambling with sensual surfaces and arrangements of people with their environment."

Good point. Cronenberg's oeuvre was fresh in my mind while I reviewed A History of Violence but that unfortunately wasn't the case here. If one looks closely enough at the likes of Scanners and Videodrome, his fascination with isolated communities and subcultures does make its mark.

"And almost all of the actors were absolutely stunning - maybe except of Naomi Watts who's been better in the past."

Perhaps. Her character was relatively straightforward when compared to that of Mortensen's or even Cassel's.

"Eastern Promises" is most interesting in the context of Cronenberg's whole Oeuvre but less interesting as a stand-alone film, imo."

Interesting. I find it difficult now to consider the two as separate entities. In fact, that may be virtually impossible to do.
arsaib4
 

Re: David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (U.K.-Can-U.S. / 2007)

Postby justindeimen » Mon Dec 31, 2007 3:49 am

I don't see such implication anywhere in 's post (or in mine, for that matter).

arsaib, what implication would that be? I was merely sharing with R6dw6C a differing point of view that someone recently shared with me. I thought it was apropos to point out that with Eastern Promises, another long time admirer of Cronenberg has also noticed something different about him, his approaches and possibly his themes.
justindeimen
 

Re: David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (U.K.-Can-U.S. / 2007)

Postby arsaib4 » Mon Dec 31, 2007 3:57 am

"An acquaintance of mine has also shared his changing perceptions on Cronenberg..."

That could throw one off a bit.
arsaib4
 

Re: David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (U.K.-Can-U.S. / 2007)

Postby justindeimen » Mon Dec 31, 2007 4:09 am

It could. But I personally thought R6dw6C was sharing his changing perceptions of Cronenberg as well.
justindeimen
 


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