Eastern Promises was a 2007 British-American-Canadian crime thriller, directed by acclaimed filmmaker David Cronenberg. It starred Viggo Mortensen as the driver/clean up guy for the Russian mafia in London and Naomi Watts as a midwife. The movie also features Armin Mueller-Stahl as the head of the mafia and Vincent Cassel as his troubled son. It takes place in present day London, a part of the town that seems to have a lot of Russian residents (as well as other Eastern Europeans).
The movie follows the midwife as she is drawn into the London underground in her quest to find the family of a 14 year old Georgia prostitute who recently died during child birth. In doing so, she mistakenly asks the head of the Russian mafia to help translate a diary for her (since her Russian uncle refused to do so, at the time). This leads to a hit being ordered on her uncle after the mafia manages to get back the girls diary, so the police don’t discover the truth. In the meantime, his son has run afoul of a pair of Chechen brothers after he killed their brother for spreading the “lies” that he was both a drunk and a queer. Neither was a lie, but he didn’t want anyone else to discover the truth—to the point of not even admitting it to himself. This, of course, led to the most famous scene in the movie when Viggo Mortensen’s character had to defend himself against the knife-wielding Chechen’s in a bathhouse. The fight was brilliant in its brutality.
Throughout it all, the acting was top notch. Watts, Cassel, and Mueller-Stahl all did an amazing job, as did the supporting members of the cast. But Mortensen was clearly the star of the show. His brilliant, yet understated, performance was capped off by a Russian accent that didn’t sound forced or unnatural. In addition the movie had frequent voice over’s taken from the girl’s diary that both highlighted the tragedy of human trafficking and the main character’s need for a better life. This was a brilliant and subtle way to do so. Also, the moving was extremely gripping. Not necessarily as fast paced as some other thrillers, but it didn’t need to be. The story was gripping enough, and I found it impossible to not be drawn in.
In the end, I felt the movie would have been great even without the performances involved. Between the screenplay and David Cronenberg’s phenomenal ability to get the best performances possible from his actors, the movie was destined for excellence.