Eastern Promises (2007)

Rated: R
Grade: CFCB=D
Budget: $25 million
Box Office: $17 million US, $30 million int’l, $5 million DVD

Directed by: David Cronenberg, who made A History of Violence, Naked Lunch, and a bunch of old school horror flicks like The Dead Zone, Videodrome, Scanners, The Brood, and The Fly.
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassell, and Armin Mueller-Stahl.

An obstetrician holds the key to taking down a Russian mobster because the teenage Jane Doe who died delivering his daughter left a diary depicting her life as a forced prostitute. Meanwhile, Viggo Mortensen is an up-and-coming tough guy trying to make it big time despite being the driver for the unbalanced son of the boss.

Entertainment Value: C I should have known better, since I also forced myself to sit through A History of Violence (also starring Viggo) and I could have checked his pedigree. If you like dark, violent crime dramas, you’d like this. I usually don’t. That being said, I found the plot intriguing and some of the turns and the tension to be fairly interesting. At the very least, the characters are terribly fascinating. Hence, a C.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol F, Sexuality F, Violence F, Language F, Illegality F
So, it’s unanimous, see? Everyone drinks a lot, and there is heroin use referred to. Almost everyone gets naked at some point. It’s the Russian mafia, so language and illegality are pretty constant. However, of all the elements, the violence is probably the worst, including torture elements, an extremely brutal knife fight in a bath house, and an opening scene a la the Sweeney Todd. I’d call it NC-17 if it were up to me.

Significant Content: C
When people become objects, anything can happen to them. Crime is bad. Crime puts ordinary people in danger. Heroism can come in all sorts of packages.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
For sheer atmosphere, the movie is rich. Apparently Viggo studied Russian gangs visually for weeks without a translator in order to put himself in the frame of mind necessary. His character here is fascinating, and the burgeoning romance between him and Naomi Watts is chillingly enticing, as are the various forms of pride portrayed here.

Discussion Questions:
~What are the characteristics of a monster? Which character in this movie scares you the most? Why are we tempted to think of monsters in hyperbolic terms? How does this keep us from seeing monstrosity around us in everyday life? If you’ve seen A History of Violence, would you say ~Viggo’s character there is like his here or more like that of Semyon?
~What do you think of the notion of tattoos as identity and history? Why are tattoos so popular today? If you’ve seen it, how would you compare the role of tattoos in this movie with that of those in Memento? Are the tattoos in this movie a character in themselves?
~Do you feel pity for any of these characters?
~Can a human being do the sort of things Viggo does in this movie and still remain unaffected or unpolluted by it? How about watching him do them as a viewer?
~To what degree is violence necessary in dealing with those who feel no compunction about using it?
~What do we lose because we do not have folk songs and rituals which cross generations? How has the generational separation in culture (movies, song, attire) affected the United States?
~What do you think of the uncle spitting on Viggo? Was that brave or stupid?
~If you were to view this entire movie as a commentary on the sin of pride, how might you assess the characters and the elements?
~What do you think of the ending?

Overall Grade: D
It’s a brutal gangster movie. More Scarface than The Godfather, which almost seems like a Disney movie by contrast.

No comments: