Russian-born Nikolai Luzhin is a driver for one of London's most notorious organized crime families of Eastern European origin. The family itself is part of the Vory V Zakone criminal brotherhood. Headed by Semyon, whose courtly charm as the proprietor of the plush Trans-Siberian restaurant masks a cold and brutal core, the family's...
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Russian-born Nikolai Luzhin is a driver for one of London's most notorious organized crime families of Eastern European origin. The family itself is part of the Vory V Zakone criminal brotherhood. Headed by Semyon, whose courtly charm as the proprietor of the plush Trans-Siberian restaurant masks a cold and brutal core, the family's fortunes are tested by Semyon's volatile son and enforcer, Kirill, who is more tightly bound to Nikolai than to his own father. But Nikolai's existence is jarred once he crosses paths at Christmastime with Anna Khitrova, a midwife at a North London hospital. Anna is deeply affected by a young teenager who dies while giving birth to a baby. Anna resolves to try to trace the baby's lineage and relatives. Anna's mother Helen does not discourage her, but Anna's irascible Russian-born uncle Stepan urges caution. By delving into the diary, Anna accidentally unleashes the full fury of the Vory. With Semyon and Kirill closing ranks and Anna pressing her inquiries, Nikolai finds his loyalties divided. The family tightens its grip on him; who can, or should, he trust? Several lives--including his own--hang in the balance as a chain of murder, deceit and retribution reverberates through the darkest corners of both the family and London itself.
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David Cronenberg's expertly simmering Eastern Promises may be a blood(shed) relative to A History of Violence, but this time you'll be doing more double takes over the plot twists than the imagery.
Just as the Russian Mafia tells stories through tattoos, it could be said that Eastern Promises is told through bloodshed. The splatter begins almost immediately, in the tone-setting opening shot, but it's the ensuing scene that properly introduces the story. A 14-year-old girl named Tatiana (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse) is shown staggering in a London pharmacy, blood hemorrhaging down to her bare feet. She is in labor, as we soon learn, and only her baby will survive the birth. But the midwife, Anna (Naomi Watts), handling Tatiana's case is determined not to let the young girl's story die then and there, especially after finding her diary. Written entirely in Russian, the diary contains many secrets, all of which are clearly not meant to be meddled with by anyone who values her life. Anna knows this, and yet she proceeds to have her Russian uncle (Jerzy Skolimowski) translate the diary. It directs her to the notorious Russian Mob syndicate Vory V Zakone, led by its aging boss (Armin Mueller-Stahl), his heir-to-the-throne son (Vincent Cassel) and their driver/"undertaker" (Viggo Mortensen). And by the time Anna reaches the end of her vigilante investigation into the Zakone, Tatiana's death isn't the only mystery solved.
Viggo Mortensen has a serious complexity complex—which is to say, the uncomplicated-character role is of zero interest to him. Never before has Mortensen portrayed a more complex character than Promises' Nikolai, nor has the actor ever performed at such a high level. In fact, so multilayered is Nikolai that Mortensen's spot-on Russian accent will be taken for granted, and rightfully so. Because by the end of the movie, Nikolai will have been exposed and transformed the most, and Mortensen is game each step of the way—whether it entails cold-bloodedness, sensitivity, vulnerability or full-frontal nudity (while dodging knives, no less). Mortensen also shares this movie's version of chemistry with Watts, whose Anna finds herself simultaneously intrigued and repulsed by Nikolai. As Anna, Watts turns in one of her more restrained performances to date, leaving the spotlight vacant for Mortensen's showier effort to shine. In contrast, Cassel (Derailed) doesn't have a restrained bone in his body in Promises, and it works. One of the most versatile supporting actors of today, Cassel plays Kirill over the top, conveying a hotheaded, spoiled and ultimately inept prince of the Zakone brotherhood.
David Cronenberg is every bit as important a filmmaker as the other "legends" of his generation, but because he has never directed a blockbuster per se, he remains every bit as unknown as another fellow genius named David--Lynch, that is. However, his recent work, while still uncompromising, has been more genre-classifiable and thus reached larger audiences. His latest is a straightaway crime mystery, but there is never anything conventional in how he fleshes—or, ahem, de-fleshes—out a movie. In a story crafted like a novel by writer Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things), Cronenberg once again highlights the secrets lurking among us as only he can. The result gets underneath our skin and stays put, but this time it's not all about the shocking images. While there is blood aplenty—primarily, it seems, at each of the plot points—as well as the much-buzzed-about Viggo Mortensen nude fight scene, Cronenberg puts his stamp on the storytelling maybe more than ever. Most other directors would let the sun in occasionally on a tale that is perpetually pitch black to begin with, but Cronenberg works best in the dark and doesn't pretend to cater to seekers of the light (or the lite)—he hasn't for 40-plus years. And if not for his masterful pacing in the final act, the script might'v
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