Monday, February 11, 2008

DVD REVIEW : Cronenberg's "Promise"

A Russian accent must be a tricky thing to pull off - more often than not it just sounds ridiculous (Sean Connery in "Hunt for Red October" and Harrison Ford in "K-19"). "Eastern Promises" has tons and tons of Russians coming out of every corner of London - actors trying their best to sell their Russian descent, while also delivering some dark and dramatic material. Some works and some doesn't.

I watched this film for two reasons; The first being that Viggo Mortensen has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as the driver, Nikolai, who has a knack for wearing cool shades and disposing properly of bodies.

Mortensen deserves a few props for going all out on the naked sauna fight for his life - the 5 minute sequence is the best moment in the film and seeing Mortensen kicking and fighting for his life in the buff turns out to be carnal and more real than I expected. The cuts and the hits seem more extreme with his frail (pretty frail for a Hollywood strong man), exposed body. Sadly, his role does not open up to much more than a standard leading character by the end.

He does not deserve a nomination - instead Casey Affleck should have been in the Best Actor category for his leading role in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."

The other reason I watched "Eastern Promises" is because of David Cronenberg. Cronenberg's resume has some scattered successes as well as some major flaws. His directorial vision can often frustrate me with it fabricated simplicity - yet there are times when it does all click and make for an exciting work.

"A History of Violence" had hiccups and some problems, but by the end did really speak to a far greater statement than the plot itself allowed. Thusly, I expected something similar here. The beginning of the film was intriguing and I really afforded "Eastern Promises" a long time to get moving and allow the characters to breathe. But by it's end (with a twist that comes that does nothing to help the film), I felt the film really did not have a firm grasp on the story it was telling.

There were some interesting characters - Krill (Vincent Cassel) could have been fun to spend more time with. Naomi Watts was a dead end from start to finish, but her uncle could have been given 20 more minutes to really delve into life as a Russian immigrant living in modern London. Analyzing the "old school" laws of the Russian world would have been far more interesting than anything Watt's character had to offer.

My feelings are probably more harsh than the film deserves, but after about 1 hour of allowing the film to live on it's own without any judgment... everything seemed to fall apart... and the end was really a true disappointment.

"Eastern Promises" : B-

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