January 12th, 2008

Slartibartfast

Eastern Promises, Atonement, Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

I failed pretty badly in the second half of last year to keep an online movie diary of the films I saw at the theatre. But since it was already helpful for me a couple of times to be able to come back to the entries I wrote, I'm trying again this year. And since the new year is off to a busy start I'll get right to it.

Eastern PromisesEastern Promises
From imdb: The film follows the mysterious and ruthless Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), who is tied to one of London's most notorious organized crime families. His carefully maintained existence is jarred when he crosses paths with Anna (Naomi Watts), an innocent midwife trying to right a wrong, who accidentally uncovers potential evidence against the family. Armin Mueller-Stahl plays the head of the "family" and Vincent Cassel his son. Directed by David Cronenberg.

At first I didn't want to watch this movie since I still felt the disappointment of Cronenberg's previous A History of Violence. But recommendations from friends lead to change of mind and I'm glad I did. While the characters aren't particularly new and the story of "family" within the mafia is also well known, it was a welcome variation that it was the Russian "family" instead of more common US-Italian or Japanese setting. All actors were perfect despite the fact that a New Yorker, a Frenchman and a German had to speak with heavy Russian accents. Though I read that Mortensen actually speaks Russian as well as Mueller-Stahl who's also definitely an excellent violin player. Mortensen really had a quiet and intense presence.
I especially liked that it was a very focused, dense story with just a handful of characters. It showed that it isn't necessary to make decade-spanning, convoluted epics to tell stories about the mafia. That way it's much easier to create a dark atmosphere of threat and danger. Nice plot twists don't hurt either. Well done!

And maybe a word of caution, although it's relatively tame compared to older Cronenberg movies, the rating says that it has "strong brutal and bloody violence" which sums it up pretty well. But given the setting the movie takes place in, it mostly fit into the story.
Random remark: While browsing through reviews of the movie, it was noted that the screenplay was written by Steven Knight who also was responsible for Dirty Pretty Things which, while not set in the world of the mafia, still touches upon a lot of similar subjects.


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