Every sin leaves a mark.
David Cronenberg's signature obsessions flower in Eastern Promises, a stunning look at violence, responsibility, and skin. Near Christmastime in London, a baby is born to a teenage junkie--an event that leads a midwife (Naomi Watts) into the world of the Russian mob. Central to this world is an ambitious enforcer (Viggo Mortensen) who's lately buddied up with the reckless son (Vincent Cassel) of a mob boss (Armin Mueller-Stahl, doing his benign-sinister thing). Screenwriter Steve Knight also wrote Dirty Pretty Things, and in some ways this is a companion piece to that film, though utterly different in style. The plot is classical to the point of being familiar, but Cronenberg doesn't allow anything to become sentimental; he and his peerless cinematographer Peter Suschitzky take a cool, controlled approach to this story. Because of that, when the movie erupts in its (relatively brief) violence, it's genuinely shocking. Cronenberg really puts the viewer through it, as though to shame the easy purveyors of pulp violence--nobody will cheer when the blood runs in this film. Still, Eastern Promises has a furtive humor, nicely conveyed in Viggo Mortensen's highly original performance. Covered in tattoos, his body a scroll depicting his personal history of violence, Mortensen conveys a subtle blend of resolve and lost-ness. He's a true, haunting mystery man. --Robert Horton
Stills from Eastern Promises (click for larger image). Photos by Peter Mountain.