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EASTERN PROMISES

title: EASTERN PROMISES
year: 2007
cast: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Vincent Cassel
rating: ****

In David Cronenberg’s riveting mob exploitation, a dead young girl’s diary provides a posthumous narration while Naomi Watts, as the emergency room nurse who delivers her baby, seeks answers at a restaurant where the girl had worked – but there’s so much she doesn’t know: the owner is a dangerous Russian mobster who wants the diary since it provides information about his only son, a brash, unpredictable firebrand played with a sinister childlike edge by Vincent Cassel. His only friend is the family’s driver/hitman Viggo Mortensen as Nikolai – a Siberian thug  sent to recover the diary and who’d already “cleaned-up” the remains of a spontaneous hit that ignites the movie with the kind of (somewhat gratuitous) ultraviolence occurring throughout, reminiscent of the horror genre where Cronenberg made his ground. But as the director of a suspenseful mob film, and using only a few dark lit locations – each bathed in a stark, Noir inspired visage – he makes each moment seem as if anything can happen at any time. There are a good number of important twists that would be a crime to mention, but what really matters is the dark-edged, underplayed performance of Mortensen – who this reviewer’s been a fan of since his irascibly savage turn in 1991’s THE INDIAN RUNNER. Not since Sally Kirkland's ANNA has an American pulled off an East European accent so well, you don’t even think about it. Armin Mueller-Stahl, as the aged mob boss hiding his own secret, embodies the subtle pride of his Russian lineage with a lethally formidable countenance growing darker as Watts, wonderfully mixing a lithe vulnerability with a spirited strength, gets deeper into a world that she, and perhaps even Nikolai, doesn’t belong.
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