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