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Tödliche Versprechen - Eastern Promises (Eastern Promises)
U.K./Canada/U.S.A. 2007

Opening 27 Dec 2007

Directed by: David Cronenberg
Writing credits: Steven Knight
Principal actors: Naomi Watts, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Raza Jaffrey

The world of the Italian mafia in the U.S. was brought to life in the series of Godfather movies, but in this exciting thriller from director David Cronenberg the viewer gets a fascinating look at the world of Russian organized crime in London. Anna (Naomi Watts), a midwife at a London hospital, finds a Russian-language diary on the body of a young woman who dies in childbirth. The baby survives, and Anna dutifully wants to reunite it with its family. In the diary she finds a card for the Trans-Siberian restaurant, which is owned by Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who also happens to be a boss in the Russian Mafia. In attempting to get the diary translated, she goes to Semyon for help. This unknowingly puts her and her family in serious danger, as the diary contains incriminating evidence against Semyon and his volatile son, Kirill (Vincent Cassel).

Semyon's and Kirill’s driver, Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), serves as the family's enforcer, dumping dead bodies in the Thames River. His star rises within the mafia as he displays his loyalty to the family, but as he becomes involved with retrieving the diary from Anna, he inexplicably shows a more human side. He begins to assist Anna in her quest for information on the mother of the baby, leaving the viewer to wonder where his loyalties really lie. A series of plot twists keep the viewer engaged, as deceit and retribution abound and the body count increases. Who is really to be trusted? When two bad guys are fighting, which one should you root for?

The film does contain some rather brutal violence, although it is not gratuitous, but nonetheless I did have to look away a few times. Many of the scenes are shot at night, in pouring rain or with damp streets, adding to the film’s dark and ominous feel. The ensemble acting is excellent, with Mortensen’s charismatic yet mysterious figure a sharp contrast to Cassel’s reckless and free-wheeling sunny-boy. Mueller-Stahl portrays a charming yet ruthless mafia boss who will stop at nothing to protect his family, although his Russian-ness seemed more generically European. Watts occasionally tends towards the whiny schoolgirl, and although Anna rides a motorcycle, her naiveté shows she is clearly in over her head. Many of the scenes achieve a powerful intimacy between the characters, with contests of wills adding suspense to the heightened drama. Not for the faint of heart, this dark film, which won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, will keep you enthralled and wondering which bad guy is really bad. (Erica Fox Zabusky)

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