Indiana Daily Student

Online only: Cronenberg in the underworld

Eastern Promises (R) Grade: A

Ronni Moore
Ronni Moore

Subtlety and nuance aren't familiar elements when it comes to the\nhorror works of director David Cronenberg. Here is a man who deals in the grotesque, whether it involves Jeff Goldblum mutating into a fly or\nJames Spader having sex with a leg wound. "Eastern Promises" is a whole\ndifferent kind of monstrosity where it isn't the gore that unsettles\nthe audience - it's what's going on in the minds of the central characters.\nOn a cold London night, a woman gives birth to a little girl and the\nmother dies in the process. Anna (Naomi Watts) is the nurse on duty to \nrecord the death and, in a bout of curiosity, lifts the dying woman's\ndiary from her purse. Unable to translate the Russian writing, Anna\ndiscovers a business card tucked in the pages which leads her to a Russian restaurant where the owner, Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), is more than delighted to translate it for her. What Anna doesn't know is this seemingly harmless grandfather is one of the heads of the "Vory v Zakone" a.k.a. the Russian mafia, and the diary tells a lot more than what the dying, pregnant woman was eating on a daily basis.\nSemyon has a son named Kirill (Vincent Cassell) whose loose-cannon behavior could cost Semyon his position. But it's Kirill's driver and underling Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) who is the real centerpiece of "Promises." He speaks softly and shows little emotion; his hair is perfectly groomed, his eyes are hidden by sunglasses and his face looks to have seen a few Siberian winters. When a man spits in his face, all Nikolai does is raise two fingers to his throat and point at the man to\nsummon fear.\n"Promises" is a movie that haunts the mind. Sure it's violent, featuring a brutal bathhouse fight that'll go down in the cinema history books for Cronenberg's unflinching vision, but what sticks in your head is the performances. The way Mortensen's eyes seem like giant black holes when the sunglasses are off or when Mueller-Stahl cracks a smile of deceptive reassurance. The dead woman's diary entries serve as narration throughout and you can hear the shift in her voice as she comes to realize that her hopes of finding a new life in London slowly\ncorrode into a horrifying mess. All of this perfectly accented by a somber score from composer Howard Shore who has been with the body horror auteur since 1979's "The Brood."\nSome of Cronenberg's most devout fans have lamented recently that he's \nsold-out, that he went mainstream with 2005's "A History of Violence"\nand "Eastern Promises" only reaffirms their suspicions. For a director\nwho has mostly dealt in the fantastical, of a man who becomes a fly or has a cavity in his stomach which plays video tapes, it only seems\nlogical for Cronenberg to head in a new direction towards the horrors that are all too real in our world.

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