Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 39
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

LET ME HELP YOU SAVE THE BABY: Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen, left) who has fallen in love with Anna, offers to help her (Naomi Watts) save the life of the the ruthless mobster Semyon’s baby (not shown) that Anna delivered as a midwife.

Eastern Promises: Russian Mobsters Run Amok in Film from David Cronenberg

It’s Christmas season in London, and midwife Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts) is living at home with her mother (Sinead Cusack) after enduring a miscarriage and then being abandoned by her boyfriend. That ordeal helps explain why she subsequently became deeply affected by the death, during childbirth, of her 14 year-old patient (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse) who had staggered into the hospital alone and in labor.

Anna surreptitiously pockets the young woman’s diary with the hope of finding the orphaned baby’s father in order to save the newborn from foster care or adoption. However, because the entries are all written in Russian, she asks her Uncle Stepan (Jerzy Skolimowski) to translate them. However, when he flatly refuses, Anna decides to pursue the only lead she can decipher on her own, a business card that was stuck in the diary.

The lead takes her to the trendy Trans-Siberian restaurant, an establishment run by a ruthless mobster named Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), his son, Kirill (Victor Cassel), and Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), their chauffeur, who is skilled at cleaning clues off corpses. Unaware that the place is a front for a brutal crime family trafficking in contraband and sex slaves, Anna is naively duped by the affable proprietor into leaving the incriminating diary with him for safekeeping.

It isn’t long before she finds herself on the run from mobsters intent on killing her and anyone else who might be able to link the baby back to Semyon and his illicit operation. However, Kirill decides to show his independence from his father by helping Anna and, at the same time, Nikolai is romantically attracted to her.

So unfolds Eastern Promises, another blood and guts film courtesy of David Cronenberg (A History of Violence) who has enjoyed a cult following since the seventies. In this film he was given a blockbuster budget which probably explains the concessions he made to mainstream Hollywood. Nonetheless, loyal fans will not be disappointed because many of the maverick director’s trademarks are still there.

The movie might best be described as a haunting saga of Shakespearean proportions which superficially looks like a cross between The Transporter (2002) and Borat (2006), overlaid with many of the elements of the gangster genre. As in The Transporter, the film revolves around a modest antihero who constantly claims to be just a driver and who opts to turn the tables on an employer dabbling in white slavery. And like Borat, it’s laden with thick Russian accents and a fight scene with male nudity.

Exploring an array of themes ranging from love and betrayal to morality and mortality, Eastern Promises is a mesmerizing thriller designed for people who enjoy depictions of depravity.

Sheer brutality as cinematic beauty.

Very good (3 stars). Rated R for nudity, profanity, violence, and graphic sexuality. Running time: 100 minutes. Studio: Focus Features.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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