Death and birth set cerebral thriller in motion

Eastern Promises: 90 minutes. Rated: R. Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl. Director: David Cronenberg; websiteEastern Promises

Blood is spilled on two separate occasions during the opening moments of this cerebral thriller. In the first, a gruesome hit against a Chechnya mobster is carried out in a London barbershop. In the second, a pregnant young Russian girl suffers a complicated delivery and dies on the operating table, leaving her newborn child a virtual orphan.

These two separate incidents — a death and a birth — set into motion an interwoven chain of events that unfold in the bloodiest of fashions.

Director David Cronenberg started his career making smart horror movies, and his penchant for portraying violence as realistically (albeit fleetingly) as possible is a hallmark of most of his films, and Eastern Promises is no exception.

But what is ostensibly a gruesome thriller about the Russian mafia also evolves into a kind of bleak and bloody fable, which reflects equally upon the 'migrant experience' and the difficult nature of parenthood.

The aforementioned hit was ordered by Kirill (Cassel), a hot-headed mobster whose volatile personality may in part be attributed to his father, Semyon (Mueller-Stahl), the leader of the local Eastern European organised crime brotherhood, regarding him as somewhat of a disappointment.

This already complicated relationship between father and son is further exacerbated by the fact Kirill’s mysterious and charismatic driver, Nikolai (Mortensen), seems to have fallen into Semyon’s favour. Loyalties and allegiances will be put to the ultimate test after the hit Kirill ordered triggers a turf war.

Meanwhile, London doctor Anna (Watts) has taken the baby, Christine, into her care, trying to track down the extended family and ensure Christine will have a safe upbringing. Anna, it turns out, once suffered a miscarriage, and it’s fair to assume her concern for Christine is heightened by lingering grief from that past tragedy.

Gradually, Anna uncovers a link between Christine’s late mother, and the Russian mafia; a discovery that places both her and the baby in grave danger.

In typical Cronenberg fashion, Eastern Promises will leave you thinking. His plot twists arrive with so little fanfare as to be almost imperceptible. And his ending is abrupt and unresolved enough to demand retrospection.

Particularly resonant is the sense of displacement evident in both the tragic story of Christine’s mother and the more complicated experiences of Nikolai. Despite dwelling at opposite ends of the power spectrum, they each know the desire to seek a new life in a new land, and have both experienced first-hand how difficult and painful that transition can be.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is the Assistant Editor of Eureka Street.




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