' ' Cinema Romantico: Eastern Promises

Monday, September 24, 2007

Eastern Promises

David Cronenberg's latest movie is a thriller set in London with the Russian mafia as the focal point. Naomi Watts is Anna, a doctor who one evening delivers a baby for a 14 year old girl who does not survive the birth. She finds the young girl's diary which has a postcard tucked away inside of it and Anna visits the address on the postcard to see if she can track down to whom the baby belongs. The address leads her to a Russian restaurant where she encounters the owner and family patriarch Seymond (Armin Muehller Stahl), his strange son (Vincent Cassel) and the family's ominous "driver", Nikolai (Viggo Mortenson). Seymond says he doesn't know the girl but can translate the diary for her. Anna's Russian father meanwhile has already translated it and advises Anna to stay out of it.

Where the film travels from here I will not say as there are secrets and other things to be revealed - things, thankfully, not shown in the trailers for once - and I would regret giving too much away in regards to a film I most heartily recommend.

The movie would be considered a thriller, I suppose, and it is thrilling, though not in the ways one would normally suspect. There is a lot of quiet in this movie. Scenes played between two characters with dialogue - often times people not saying all they could be saying - and often without the expected foreboding soundtrack hovering in the background. You're left to wonder at times exactly how much we know about certain characters and where their true intentions lay. There is violence but they are quick bursts of violence, which makes it all the more jarring. (There is one passage in particular that you will know the instant it happens that is downright ferocious, as well as a masterful lesson in choreography because it has to continually hide....uh....well....let's just say certain things.)

The acting is top notch, in particular Viggo Mortenson. He completely disappears into the role of Nikolai. Naomi Watts has essentially become what Julianne Moore was 10 years ago. She slides back and forth between the mainstream and more indie-minded fare but is always, always good.

Now, I do want to discuss the ending. I'm not going to give it away, per se, but I want to discuss it because it was one of the most thrilling moments I've had in a theater in recent times and left me thinking about it well after the movie was over and into the next day. Therefore if you want to know not a single thing in regards to the end I advise you to stop reading at once.

This is your final warning.

Movies anymore have no idea when they should end. This terrible phenomenon can be attributed to a number of things - perhaps the studio wants a slam-bang conclusion and so action appears out of thin air. Perhaps the studio wants a happy ending and so the movie suddenly doubles back on all that has come before and inserts that sudden bit of happiness. Perhaps the filmmakers are frightened the audience hasn't understood the message and so they have to drive it home. Perhaps the filmmakers just don't know what the hell they're doing.

About 20 seconds before "Eastern Promises" ended I caught myself thinking, man, where can they go from here? How can they tack something else on and when this is so clearly the end? I've been so numbed by movies ending after they should have ended that I didn't even think Cronenberg had the good sense to end this movie at just the right time. And just as I finished thinking that, the movie ended. And I sat in my seat until the credits were done.

I want this movie's ending shown in every film school in the country. Nothing needless, nothing forced down our throat. It trusts us. And in doing so it closes with a shot that, after what has been revealed, is so utterly perfect you may also find yourself sitting in your seat until the credits are done and pondering it all the way into tomorrow morning.

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