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Eastern Promises


Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Sinead Cusack, Jerzy Skolimowski

Director: David Cronenberg

Although sluggishly paced most of the time, this thriller about the Russian Mafia in London has some striking individual scenes. Notable among these is an attempted assassination in a sauna, a desperate fight between a naked man and his two assailants that ends with a knife through one man's eye.

Nikolai (Mortensen) is a driver/cleaner for the Vory (Russian Mafia), operating from a plush restaurant run by The Boss, Semyon (Mueller-Stahl) and his violent, alcoholic son Kirill (Cassel), a closet gay. Nikolai is an 'undertaker' who gets rid of teeth and fingerprints from the assassinations Kirill has, to his father's fury, ordered without paternal sanction. This is a man so tough he stubs out a cigarette on his own tongue.

But Nikolai's enclosed world collides with that of midwife Anna (Watts) when a pregnant teenage girl collapses and dies giving birth to a baby. Getting her Russian uncle (Skolimowski) to translate the girl's diary, Anna is horrified by the descriptions of violence, drugs and enforced prostitution. Unfortunately, she has already given a copy of the diary to Semyon, who proves to be more personally involved that she could have imagined.

Graphic in its scenes of sex and violence, the film seems to be taking longer than an hour and a half to come to the boil, but it has some good individual performances - although Watts is a bit pallid - from a cast who, though from several different countries, all manage to sound convincingly Russian to the untrained ear.

David Quinlan

UK/Canada 2007. UK Distributor: Pathe (Focus). Colour by deluxe.
100 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 18.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 1, Swearing 2.

Review date: 21 Oct 2007