Eastern Promises

 An excellent film from Canadian director David Cronenberg. However, it is one that cannot be recommended without a caution. As a picture about a Russian mafia-style group in London, there are some graphic scenes of sexual behaviour and, particularly, criminal brutality, that some audiences will not want to see,

Written by Steve Knight (a long way from Who Wants to be a Millionaire, which he co-devised). It is a companion piece to his gritty and alarming 2002 screenplay for Stephen Frears' Dirty Pretty Things. That film, set in central London, focussed on deals and crimes for trafficking in organ transplants. This time, as has been said, the focus is on a criminal organisation which originated in Stalinist Russia and flourished in the gulags and prisons, its strict codes, its absolute ruthlessness. The story is interestingly and sometimes excitingly told by veteran director David Cronenburg (who also shot a grim film in London some years ago, Spider, with Ralph Fiennes).

This is a London which is both recognisable and hidden. Part of the hidden life is the traffic in human beings from Eastern Europe, the false promises (Eastern Promises) that are made to young girls who are smuggled into England and then lost in a world of prostitution. When one fourteen year old dies in childbirth, assisted by a midwife whose father was Russian, a tale that combines humane feeling with ugly manipulation and violence begins.

Naomi Watts is believable as the concerned nurse. Sinead Cusack appears as her mother and director Jerzy Skolimowski is impressive as her old-style, auxiliary KGB uncle whom she asks to translate the dead girl's diary. When she visit the Trans-Siberian club run by a grandfatherly Armin Mueller-Stuhl, her suspicions are aroused when she encounters his dissolute son (a vigorous performance by Vincent Cassell) and the hired chauffeur, a man who seems to be emotionless and implacable, played very well indeed by Viggo Mortensen (who had appeared in Cronenberg's A History of Violence as a completely opposite kind of character).

The son is a drunkard, cowed by his father who, despite a calm exterior, is in absolute control of the criminal activities and has no scruple in eliminating anyone in his way. There are some unexpected moves along the way which finally gives the film more complex perspectives. Cronenburg seems to be quite correct when he describes Eastern Promises as 'a mob crime thriller intricately interwoven with familial dramas ­ all unfolding in a subculture that dwells within another very strong culture'.
LONDON - 9 November 2007 - 310 words

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