Eastern Promises

David Cronenberg has hit another home run. Well, more like a triple, as Eastern Promises isn’t quite as good as his last film, A History of Violence. It is an acting tour de force, though, with Viggo Mortensen and Armin Mueller-Stahl playing old-school Russian gangsters in modern-day London. Naomi Watts stars as a nurse-midwife who finds a diary that could sink the crime family, and then Mortensen gets in a naked knife fight. Moody sets and lighting play off smoky glances and witty dialogue, and everyone makes plans to throw any number of dead bodies into several bodies of water. It’s noir filmmaking at its best, where the violence is held in check as the tension rises, where the chatter is artificial in the best sense, and where the ideals of storytelling and visual richness matter more than simple realism or lizard-brain satisfaction. Though the ending is weakened by its abruptness, the rest of the film is a textbook case in how to do things with celluloid.


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