Eastern Promises is the kind of intoxicating underworld movie our Bollywood directors ought to make but just cannot.
A bloody violent movie, Eastern Promises is the gritty – and gripping – story of the Russian Mafia in London and a young midwife who accidentally comes in contact with it.
One evening a very pregnant 14-year-old girl walks into an Indian chemist’s shop in London and collapses to the floor bleeding. She’s rushed to the hospital where she delivers a baby girl. Baby survives but the young mother dies in child-birth leaving behind nothing but a diary written in Russian.
The diary is precious not just because it contains the harrowing story of the dead woman and her hope-filled journey from a village in Ukraine to a hellhole in London but also because it’s a harbinger of what lies ahead.
Made by Canadian director David Cronenberg, Eastern Promises delights us with electrifying performances by the talented troika of Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts and the German actor Armin Mueller-Stahl and a well crafted story.
As is to be expected in a movie of the Mafia genre, the chilling – and sometimes sickening – violence is always above the surface.
Viggo Mortensen brings an amazing intensity to his role as a foot-soldier – the driver in this case – with the Russian Mafia.
What you see in Mortensen’s portrayal of Nikolai is not the manic energy of Al Pacino’s Tony Montano in Scarface but the coldblooded ferocity of Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone in Godfather.
In one of the memorable scenes, Mortensen’s character Nikolai matter of factly tells Anna: “I’m just a driver” when she asks him how he can keep doing what he’s doing.
We were swept off by Mortensen’s performance and you can be sure we’ll be reorganizing our Netflix queue to watch more movies featuring this fine actor.
The fight in the Russian bathhouse between Nikolai and the two Chechens should be a lesson to Tamil film makers who still torture viewers with outrageously bad fighting scenes in movie after movie.
As the midwife Anna searching for information on family connections of the dead mother Tatiana Maslany to prevent the baby from going into state fostercare, British actress Naomi Watts brings a powerful and delightful presence to the screen.
Anna’s search takes her to Armin Mueller-Stahl, who runs a restaurant that’s a front for his Mafia activities in London.
Mueller-Stahl dazzles as the Mafia chief Semyon preying on young girls from Russia and Ukraine by running a prostitution and slave ring and other illegal activities.
The narrative sags not a minute in this tightly written script.
Compared to Eastern Promises, even successful Indian Mafia movies like Sarkar and Nayagan come across as juvenilia.
Indian movie directors making gangster flicks must be compulsorily asked to watch Eastern Promises, Godfather and Scarface before being allowed to go behind the camera.
In keeping with its story, Eastern Promises has heavy doses of violence and sex. So, be prepared for a fair bit of blood, gore and nudity in this fine movie. All tastefully handled, though.
No surprise indeed that Eastern Promises has already won the People’s Choice Award at the recent Toronto International Film Festival.