A friend of mine has a Netflix account, and before she returned the film, she let me watch Eastern Promises a week ago Sunday, while Carol and Lydia went ice skating. I must admit, despite it being out for a while, I wasn’t sure what the movie was about. As it turns out, it’s the story of the Russian mafia in London, and this guy Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) working his way up the system. It’s also about this young woman who died in childbirth, nurse Anna (Naomi Watts) trying to find the family of the baby, and how these two story lines intersect.
Mortensen is excellent, and deserving of his Oscar nomination. I had seen him only in lighter fare, such as the first Lord of the Rings film. He embodies and possesses this hardened character. Watts is also good, as is Armin Mueller-Stahl as the mob boss. I was also captivated by the storytelling prowess of tattoos.
All that said, I can’t say I enjoyed the film. There are ultragraphic touches throughout. In fact, after the scene that took place at 75 minutes in, I did something I absolutely hate to do; I put the video on pause to catch my breath, which one could not do in a movie theater. It does not surprise me that the director was David Cronenberg, who broke into films making violent fare; his last film, which I did not see, was A History of Violence.
More problematic, though, is the storyline itself. Maybe it was because of the language barrier, but occasionally I didn’t understand what was going on, why a certain person was killed, and worst of all, the ending. Also, there’s about a five-minute initiation seen, done entirely in languages I did not comprehend – no subtitles – which was interesting for a couple minutes, but which then became frustrating.
You know when you read the SPOILER ALERT synopsis and both you and your friend say, “Oh, is THAT what happened?”, a certain storytelling disconnect has occurred.