Posted by: Paul | August 15, 2010

Eastern Promises

A few weeks ago BBC2 did an excellent ‘BBC Films’ weekend, featuring The Damned United (pretty entertaining), Is Anybody There (Michael Caine movie I’d never heard of and missed anyway) and this, the most recent David Cronenberg movie, featuring his current muse, Viggo Mortensen.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a Cronenberg ‘fan’ in the same way that I’m a fan of Gilliam and the Coens, but he is an interesting and challenging director and I have seen most of his films – usually from between the gaps in my fingers, hiding an expression of horror. But recently his films have become a bit more bearable and a bit less horrifying, culminating in the thoroughly enjoyable ‘A History Of Violence’. Eastern Promises however holds a special interest, with my old Bermondsey stomping ground doubling for most of the film’s Clerkenwell locations – including Southwark Park Road’s premier eatery – The Wimpy! Yes, they still exist.

The lovely Naomi Watts (a little anaemic in this unfortunately but her character is a bit thin) plays a midwife in a South London hospital, and when a young pregnant Russian girl dies on her shift after giving birth to a baby girl, she sets out to get the girl’s diary translated in order to find her family, and thus someone to take care of the baby. When her Russian uncle translates the diary she finds out more than she bargained for as a world of organised crime, people and drug trafficking is revelaed to her run by the Vory V Zakone – that’s Russian Mafia to you and me. Mortensen plays a driver for the local boss, and acts as her way into this dangerous world.

Mortensen is fantastic throughout – you would never believe he is anything other than fluent in Russian – and particularly in a climactic scene in a bathouse where he is set upon by two thugs with knives, a fight which Mortensen performs bravely starkers. There’s a nice twist which I didn’t see coming and though the end is a bit abrupt and there’s plenty of graphic Cronenberg bloodletting, it was a pretty compelling experience throughout. Just don’t go to the barbers on Southwark Park Road, that’s all I’m saying – you may come out with less than you took in!

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