MOVIE: Eastern Promises (2007)

I’m pretty sure that not being blown away by this movie means I’m a moron.  But then, I said the same thing when I wasn’t blown away by Syriana, and then I realized that MOST people didn’t really “get” Syriana, and only said they did out of fear they’d be considered stupid if they say they didn’t.  So, maybe the same goes for this one.  Everybody’s too afraid to say Cronenberg ISN’T that much of a genius?  Or I’m a moron?  I’m sure you’ll let me know your opinion in comments.  Go ahead, I can take it.

This movie isn’t obfuscating the way Syriana was — it’s just not that interesting (in my opinion, anyway).  And maybe that had more to do with my mood while watching it (impatient and sort of distracted) than with the film itself.  Who knows.  Maybe if I see it again later, I’ll love it as much as the critics seemed to. 

Except that, now that I think about it, I wasn’t really blown away by A History of Violence either, the last teaming of David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen, and likewise a movie everybody raved about at the time.  I can’t remember why I didn’t like History that much — I’ve conveniently blocked most of it out now.  But I can tell you why I didn’t like this one:  Not only was it not that engaging or original a story, but I found the end cheesier than a Dominos deep dish.  And damn, them pizzas haz got CHEEZ.

The film opens with a midwife, Anna (Watts), called in to assist with a young woman’s birth.  The woman dies during delivery, leaving behind an infant daughter and a diary written in Russian.  Since Anna is part Russian herself, she takes the diary home and gives it to her uncle to translate.  He gets a few pages in and realizes the girl was a prostitute mixed up with the Russian mafia.  He urges Anna to let it go, but she can’t resist getting involved — at first innocently wanting to find out who the girl is so she can give her family the baby girl, and later because she’s just one of those people who can’t resist righting a wrong. 

When Anna’s uncle refuses to translate the diary any further for her, Anna takes it to a Russian restaurant (the card for which she had found tucked inside the diary).  The owner of the restaurant, Semyon (Mueller-Stahl), agrees to help, but we soon realize this is because he was directly involved in what happened to the girl, and wants to destroy the diary before it can implicate his family in a variety of crimes.  Semyon’s son Kirill (Cassel) is about as evil as they come — we think at first, anyway — and he begins harassing Anna.  But Kirill’s friend Nikolai (Mortensen), who also serves as Semyon’s driver, is a quiet, intelligent man who takes an immediate interest in Anna and ends up helping her in a variety of incredibly sweet ways. 


The ending of this movie reveals both Kirill and Nikolai to be someone other than we initially thought they were (I won’t tell you just how), but even though the characters and their revealed personality or identity twists were interesting, the story itself was just WAY too predictable for me.  And the final moments of this film kind of made me want to hurl.  Ironic, since I also get really annoyed when movies DON’T have happy endings — apparently, I cannot be pleased.  Yet, at the same time, seriously — the whole scene at the docks with the baby, was just. . . ugh.  The dialogue in that scene — ugh.  The acting in that scene — ugh (though, I’d argue that Naomi Watts’s acting is ALWAYS ugh, incidentally).  The outcome of that scene — ugh. 

I recognize that this is a well-made film, and I also got a kick out of Mortensen’s nekked fight scene — not just because he looks pretty good with no pants on (rare, in my experience), but also because that scene was quite brilliantly choreographed, in my opinion.  But the plot and characters just didn’t really do it for me.  The story felt to me more like a rerun of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit than a unique, intriguing film. 

Call me a moron.  Call me a girl of bad taste.  Heck, call me Ishmael.   It won’t change the fact I was thoroughly underwhelmed by this film.  And also, for the record, with Syriana, which has absolutely nothing to do with Eastern Promises, so I have no idea why I keep bringing it up.  I’ll shut up now.

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre: Drama, Mob
Cast:  Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Sinead Cusack, Armin Mueller-Stahl

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7 Responses to “MOVIE: Eastern Promises (2007)”

  1. Lorraine Says:

    I really liked “Eastern Promises”. I didn’t know much about the story and was surprised how it kept me interested from beginning to end. I consider Naomi Watts to be one of the better actresses. She has nice subtlety and warmth. Meg, we really disagree about this one – oh well!

    But, “A History of Violence” was a much more interesting story, except when I was jarred by William Hurt’s scenery-chewing (as usual). I found Viggo’s storyline very compelling and I liked being kept off-balance by the plot (without it being too farfetched).

    I’m not sure why Eastern Promises makes you think of “Syriana”. I admit that I spent most of that movie just trying to figure out what was going on. I guess it was trying to make a point about the complexity of the Mideast/oil and the convolutions of the storyline, but it just made me apatheic about the film.

  2. megwood Says:

    I think the Syriana connection is just because everybody raved about that one too, and I also just didn’t GET it (both what the heck was going on, and why everybody thought it was so brilliant). But that’s really the only connection, and I have no idea why I even bothered dropping that in there. Sometimes I confound even myself.

    I’m totally cool with everybody disagreeing with me both about Eastern Promises and about Watts (and about History of Violence, for that matter) — I do recognize that I’m in a big minority on all the above topics! But Naomi Watts really irritates the hoo-hah out of me. Every time I see her, I just want to. . . I don’t know. . . mess up her hair or something.

    Though, I will confess that both Kong and I are charmed by her dance routines. Girl’s got gams, that’s for sure.

  3. Trip Says:

    Meg – don’t feel bad. I’m right there with you on this one. You nailed it with “underwhelming”.

    The crime boss wasn’t menacing, the gangsters weren’t scary, you could see the twists coming a mile away, and everything was just generally unpleasant. I called Viggo’s real identity about 15 minutes in.

    I feel like it was just trying too hard to hide what amounted to a paper-thin story behind dense atmosphere and accents.

    I mean, what did all the ethnicity really bring to the story? If you replace the immigrant Russian backdrop with an Italian one, or Irish or Mexican, does it really change anything?


  4. steandric Says:

    In this film Naomi Watts delivers one of her best performances which Rollingstone calls “extraordinary” and US Weekly calls “quietly powerful”, to name just a few. You may call it ugh because of your personal dislike of the actress. minority view indeed, and ugh, jealousy, jealousy.

  5. NNYCHIC Says:

    Megwood – I do not think that you are alone on this.

    I really like Viggo Mortensen as an actor and I like Naomi Watts too. I have watched Eastern Promises twice now and still haven’t figured out where all the hype comes from either. I can totally agree that the fight scene in the bathhouse was very well done. It was well choreographed and well shot. I believe that scene alone gives just cause for Viggo’s multiple nominations for awards this year… don’t see any other mainstream actors willing to be as vulnerable as he was in that scene but (no pun intended) with that said… it was hard for me to believe him as a “Russian” character. I’ve just seen too many of his movies/characters to buy off on this one. I think he did ok with it. I think his committment to getting things right about a character is great (i.e. his research into the tattoos, visiting Russia for a few weeks, etc.). There is no doubt in my mind that he is extremely talented and long over due for some recognition as such.

    Outside of that particular scene… I just was not impressed with the movie itself. I can say the same for History of Violence. I watched it several times just trying to pick something up from it but still I just didn’t get all the hype.

    To me both movies lacked a good sense of flow. This is all, of course, just my humble opinion. Maybe I am just not as “artistically” minded as some of the other movies goers or critics.

    As for Syriana… never saw it so I can’t comment on it. I am not a Clooney fan.

  6. megwood Says:

    Yeah, that must be it — I’m JEALOUS of Naomi Watts. *snort*

    Glad to hear I’m not the only one who was pretty unimpressed with this movie, though! Yay.

  7. Cheryl Says:

    I was all set to ho-hum status quo, not having seen the movie yet, until I read “Mortensen’s nekked fight scene”

    I’m sorry, I’m going to have to watch it now just for that.

    I wonder if that’s why he was nominated for an Oscar…

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