Archive for October 29th, 2007

October 29, 2007

>This Is No Russian "Godfather"


“I’m just the driver”, says Viggo’s character

Eastern Promises (2007) – Director David Cronenberg has become nearly a master when it comes to shoot unique violence scenes. And in his newest film, violence appeals much more cruel, provocative and tense than in his last drama/thriller, A History of Violence. He makes us wonder about his main character’s identity by one single fight scene where a naked Viggo Mortensen brutally manages to defend himself from two men in a bathhouse. Cronenberg tells us stories through blood, and no guns are needed. This is non gratuitous violence in its best shape. Ambiguous and mysterious, Nikolai (Mortensen) works as a driver for a russian family in London. This is no ordinary family, as the members belong to the russian mafia which deals with the sex trade of young girls from East Europe. In one of the first scenes, we’re introduced to a pregnant 14-year old girl who hemorrhages from her baby while asking for help inside a pharmacy.
The girl ends up giving birth and dying right after it, during the shift of Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts), a kind midwife whose recent emotional past consists in a broken relationship and a natural abortion. Anna finds the girl’s diary and an address that will bring her to a traditional russian restaurant which belongs to the family where Nikolai works for. There she’ll meet the courtly old owner, Semyon, smooth-voiced and so apparently harmless while playing violin to his granddaughters that she would never imagine what he is capable of. As soon as he hears of the diary, he offers himself to translate it to Anna, but he obviously has no real intension of helping her. He only wants a chance to hide and erase his own crimes. The character is unable to earn the audience’s simpathy whereas Brando’s portrayal in The Godfather had always made me yearn for his happy ending despite his not so good actions.
Semyon’s son, Kirill (Vincent Kassel), a homophobic drunker who is clearly afraid of embracing his true sexuality is not the most likable character either. This is not a movie about the mafia and its family relations, it’s about two characters who will have their paths intertwined because of a baby and a diary, though the russian mafia will be on their way during the entire film. We know what these guys are capable of from the opening scene, as a haircut in a barbershop is finalized by an unexpected throat slashing. But the most fascinating in the story is to find out about Nikolai’s different personality layers as the plot reveals his different attitudes towards other people and situations, and luckily Viggo Mortensen is sutil enough to intersperse among his character’s ambiguity.

The vulnerable and fearless Anna ends up trusting the mysterious Nikolai