The Red Right Hand
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EASTERN PROMISES
Every Sin Leaves A Mark

Director
David Cronenberg

Starring
Naomi Watts
Viggo Mortensen
Vincent Cassel
Armin Mueller-Stahl

I genuinely fail to comprehend the levels of ignorance and stupidity that the general public often sink to. It's not a simple case of being unable to understand or relate to their opinions, more an inability to comprehend their reasons. To start off, I will just say that Eastern Promises is astoundingly good; up there in the annals of this year's top film, Atonement and one of the best gangster movies since The Godfather. I am quietly confident this will encourage a wave of disgruntled e-mails, throwing around words like "Goodfellas," "The Departed" and "City Of God" but no matter. Before attending the screening, I had received word from the States that this film was a lot like Cronenberg's previous title, A History Of Violence and was largely mediocre and predictable; luckily, this couldn't be further from the truth. I was a big fan of A History Of Violence, I thought it was enjoyable and well performed whilst staying loyal to the graphic novel. The plot itself was very simple and revolved around three or four climactic incidents and how the main characters coped with the consequences; in that respect, formulaically speaking, there is a definite similarity.

To explain the story is to unravel a tapestry of events that would ruin the film for anyone wishing to watch this feature. Instead, I'll simply give you a brief overview; my apologies if it sounds a little… uninvolved. Set in London (beautifully showing the London that Londoners know, rather than a helping of iconic tourist attractions), this is the story of a Russian mafia presence that is shaken up the investigations of an almost unworldly midwife. The events kick into motion when a fourteen year old girl stumbles into a chemist, asking for help. She is rushed to hospital, were she dies, giving birth to a baby girl. The midwife who delivered the baby, Anna [Watts], has a strange desire to locate a proper home for this child (to be honest, this is the films largest problem but we'll discuss that in a minute). When the girl was admitted, she had a diary with her, written in Russian. Although she cannot read Cyrillic, Anna is half Russian and follows the only lead she has; a restaurateur's business card. On arrival at the restaurant, she meets with the proprietor, Semyon [Mueller-Stahl], his son Kirill [Cassel] and the family driver, Nikolai [Mortenson]. The remainder of the film follows Anna's resistance to subtle threats and Nikolai's part in the family business.

Displaying a healthy and modest cast, Eastern Promises is full of emotive and dramatic performances, keenly-developing intrigue and a handful of scenes of a graphic, violent or sexual nature. Over the last ninety years, the gangster genre has evolved considerably, both to reflect the times of portrayal and when considering its current social situation. Nowhere is this more evident than in my favourite film, The Godfather. Filmed in the 70's, based in the 50's, spanning the transitional change-of-hands of the family business (in this case, organised crime) from father to son, while developing social, family and economical politics, it remains the perfect movie. I wouldn't say this is anywhere near as good but it is certainly worth a look; certainly one for fans of The Long Good Friday. The only flaws can be found with Naomi Watts' character and her unfounded desire to ensure the baby has a happy life. I don't want to sound cruel but at times she seems to risk everything for someone she has no relation to and did not know. On the other hand, both literature and cinema are littered with these sorts of examples of courage, valour and saintly conviction; maybe it's just a reflection of our cynical times. For all those annoyed or disappointed by the film or its ending, just let me say two things. First, look how The Godfather ended, look at it's poor critical reception at the time and how it was labelled grossly and unnecessarily violent; if you want a proper example of endless violence and nudity, go watch Saw IV. The second is a simple question, what exactly are you watching that's so bloody brilliant? I'm sorry but the first person I spoke to, after watching this film, was an American who hated it. I posed this question to him and he responded with, Good Luck Chuck; I rest my case.

...and not once did I complain that there was not a single Londoner in the main cast. That alone is a testament to how much I enjoyed this film.

Release Date:
26th October 2007

The Scene To Look Out For:
Guns are in circulation here in the UK, they're illegal, but you can still get them. Despite this, Cronenberg has chosen to go down the classic Brit route of avoiding gunplay - very wise. I grew up in London and heard of gun crimes but never saw a single firearm. On the other hand, the alternatives have proven much more intimidating; piano wire, knives, razors, bricks, bats, knuckle-dusters, lead pipes, glass and all sorts. The reason I'm categorising this as my highlighted scene is because it is a subtle element that helps set the story and gives a very real and threatening feeling.

Notable Characters:
The characters drive this film, from Mueller-Stahl's icy portrayal of Semyon, to Vincent Cassel's 'I'm not French, I'm Russian but still a bastard as always' role. The real heart of this film, however, is shown through Anna's struggles and Nikolai's dark past. Most importantly, Viggo is astoundingly good on-screen. In preparation for this role, he went to Russia, without a translator and simply drove around, getting a feel for the country and its culture, away from the tourist side; a bold and wise act that clearly pays off. Oh, and if anyone wants to complain about Viggo’s penis flopping around in the steam-room fight sequence (and I know there are many of you who do) allow me to say I was glad to see such realism. I believe it to be one of the most realistic on-screen fight sequences, every punch hurts, every slash of a blade cripples and the stupid towel he started with is almost instantly discarded - unlike Arnie's welded shroud in Red Heat.

Highlighted Quote:
"I cannot become the king if someone else already sits on the throne"

In A Few Words:
"Not for the faint hearted but a sublime mafia film in the truest sense"

Total Score:
9/10


Matthew Stogdon