TIFF Movie Review: Eastern Promises

David Cronenberg is a director that tends to polarize audiences. Either you love him, or you hate him. I'm one of the few people who sways back and fourth depending on the film. I was a fan of his earlier films, and really ended up digging A History of Violence. And I was very excited to see his latest film Eastern Promises.

Have you ever been in a movie for only a few minutes before you knew that you weren't going to like it? This is what happened to me in the screening room. I sat there in shock. I wanted to leave but chose not to because I had a scheduled roundtable interview with Chronenberg and star Viggo Mortensen. I wanted the film to get better, to draw me in, and I sat around, waiting for something that never came. To be fair, it did improve slightly before offering a total cop out of an ending.

Cronenberg likes to take a traditionally trashy genre story (in this case a mob movie) and elevate it using a slower indie tone and some interesting ideas that usually evoke questions. I have met many people who have left a Cronenberg film calling it boring and slow. I've usually been one to (a least internally) say "They just don't get it." I know that sounds elitist, because, well it is. But I left Eastern Promises happy that it was over, but not glad that I had seen it. And may-be "I just don't get it", or maybe it's just "such an accomplished film that it's out of my understanding", but I'm pretty sure otherwise. Either way, I'm now a lot more excited to see American Gangster and We Own The Night.

Most of the characters are cliches of cliches. They are one dimensional stereotypes with the possible exception of Kirill, which would have been original if it hadn't been played on The Sopranos last season. Naomi Watts' character Anna Khitrova is naive to the core. Her sole mission is to protect an innocent baby, but every move she makes puts the baby in further danger. There is a story point late into the film which was entirely unnecessary and felt like something that a studio executive would have fought for in a big Hollywood action movie. Cronenberg should be ashamed for allowing Steve Knight's character twist to appear in his film. I found a few connections of ideas and plot points to New Testament bible stories to be interesting, but not much more. I would like to discuss these points in the review, but that is impossible without revealing major spoilers from late into the plot. And while these connections maybe interesting at first glance, I have found that there isn't much substance to the ideas.

And in typical Cronenberg fashion, there are outbursts of excessive gore and violence (sometimes even to a laughable degree). There is one sequence which takes place in a bathhouse which was incredibly intense and bloody. In a better movie it could have been the icing on top of the cake, but it just felt out of place in this film. Viggo Mortensen fangirls will no-doubtedly flock to theaters to see the Lord of the Rings star in the buff. I will offer this cautionary comment: the full frontal nudity does not occur in a love scene with Naomi Watts, but instead in the bloody bathhouse sequence that I just spoke of.

Oh, and I canceled my interview with Cronenberg. I mean, what could I really ask him about this flick? And how could I have looked him in the face knowing that I had seen it.

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10