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Eastern Promises (2007)

Every sin leaves a mark.

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 100 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 18


A film about ethnic criminals that’s not set in Boston? Well, blow me.  The ambitious Mr Cronenberg even has those well known Russian movie stars Viggo Mortensen and Vincent Cassel along to play some Russkie bad guys.

The story revolves around a shady Russian family in London involved in sex trafficking, gang warfare and entertaining pensioners in their restaurant. At the head of the family is Semyon (Mueller-Stahl) who is trying to keep his wayward son Kirill (Cassel) in check. When a young pregnant girl dies on the operating table of Anna, a midwife and Russian descendant, she leaves her diary containing some nasty truths about abuse she received from the Russians. Anna mistakenly takes the diary to Semyon to be translated and he puts his dependable driver Nikolai (Mortensen) on the case to smooth things over.

Eastern Promises is not a typical gangster film that glorifies the bad guys and the violence that they do but it’s rather a mature and intelligent take on the crime market. It’s filmed on an intimately small scale too with only a few sets, limited number of characters, a handful of vital characters and no jetsetting involved. The plot is multi-layered and there are nice plot devices like excerpts from the girl’s diary and insights into the nastier, more practical side of the business. This all makes for an intriguing watch that’s certainly more thriller than gangland yarn.

Mortensen is absolutely terrific as Nikolai, the dark horse, with a few tricks up his sleeve. He plays him with such such coolness and subtlety, that no matter what Nikolai does, it always seems like there’s something he’s hiding. Contrary to the intro’s mockery, his accent is bang on (as are his tattoos) and Vince isn’t bad either, coming across with an accent that an acceptable grade of ‘foreign’.  Eastern Promises also offers an excellent supporting cast. Mueller-Stahl does well to portray the grandfatherly and evil qualities of the head of the family and Naomi Watts gives a brilliant, understated performance as the conscience and driving force of the film. Fortunately, most Russian caricatures  are missing here.

It's Got: Best all-male naked fight scene I ever want to see, intriguing plot, great performances all around

It Needs: To be seen as Viggo's best, if not best known, performance yet.

DVD Extras Pretty poor with just two short featurettes about the making of EP and Nikolai's tattoos. No Director's commentary or contextual fluff. DVD Extras Rating: 2/10


The Cronenberg-Mortensen partnership gels to great effect in this intelligent tale of the Russian Mafia and sex trafficking in the UK. Better than A History of Violence, I’d say.