EASTERN PROMISES (HD DVD)
Set in London, Eastern Promises sets the stakes right away. The movie opens with a man named Soyka getting his throat slit in a barbershop. The next scene cuts to a young pregnant girl stumbling into a pharmacy. She is revealed to be severely bleeding and is rushed to the hospital, but dies on the table. The baby she was carrying is saved.
Among the girl’s personal effects, Anna (Naomi Watts), the hospital midwife, finds her diary, which is written in Russian. Anna’s family is from Russia, so she takes the book in an effort to assist Baby Doe. As a matter of principle, her uncle refuses when he learns that Anna stole it from the dead girl. Anna finds a business card of a local Russian restaurant and speaks with the owner Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl). He offers to help if Anna brings him the diary. She offers to bring copies, but he is adamant that he needs the original to do it properly. Anna soon discovers that not only is Semyon actually a member of vory v zakone, the Russian Mafia, but he knew the young girl, intimately.
Meanwhile, Semyon is also dealing with his son Kirill (Vincent Cassel), who ordered the hit on Soyka because he had been saying Kirill was a drunk and a homosexual, both of which are most likely true, and he was talking with the police. Semyon is angry because Soyka was a made man and it was done without his permission and Soyka has brothers who will surely seek revenge.
Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) is Kirill’s driver and bodyguard. He says he will stand up when Soyka’s brothers come. He earns the respect of Semyon by handling things much better and cleaner than the reckless and impulsive Kirill. He gets the diary from Anna and makes her uncle disappear because he read it. Nikolai becomes a made man with the vory v zakone, and in turn is marked with the customary tattoos to make it evident.
The plot was moving along well but then it fell apart in the closing scenes due to an unbelievable logic gaffe by certain characters to force the film to its conclusion. The police learn of Semyon’s involvement with the young dead girl and take a blood sample, yet they don’t arrest him. While this seemed very unusual, I have no knowledge of British law, so I accepted the scene. However, even if they didn’t tell Semyon, he’s a very smart man and there could only have been one reason to take his blood: to match with the baby. Inexplicably, the police leave the baby unguarded and Kirill kidnaps her from the hospital.
With ten minutes to go, the film falls apart by stretching plausibility too thin, which is too bad because the film had a lot going for it. The Russian Mafia working in London is a very intriguing concept. Director David Cronenberg made a very interesting film to look at visually. The actors, especially Mortensen’s Golden Globe-nominated performance, are all very good. The story’s climax, although slightly melodramatic, could have worked if they had gotten there in a believable way.
The film’s most talked about scene is the fight Mortensen’s character has while in a public sauna. When his towel falls away, he fights naked. He can only be seen in his full glory in a few flashes. The nudity is not gratuitous because it plays out naturally in the story. The violence might be a little rough for some viewers as the bad guys bring knives.
The disc has two Bonus Features that are available in HD. “Secrets and Stories” is a making of documentary about the film that also discusses the crimes of sex slavery by the Russian mob. “Marked For Life” is a feature about the tattoos of Russian mobsters
The video is presented in 1080p High Definition Widescreen 1.85:1. Although there are a number of dark scenes, the picture looks great. Even in the outdoor night shots, there is a lot of detail in the entire frame. The Russian restaurant set piece makes great use of many colors. Cinematographer Peter Suschitzky and his team did a great job.
The audio is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English and Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 in English and French. It has a good mix, but there’s not a lot for the surround to do until the sauna fight scene.