Eastern Promises Review
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Now that the Toronto International Film Festival has unofficially opened this year’s awards season, movie buffs around the world are already talking about the Oscars. And the first fall release to garner serious Oscar buzz is director David Cronenberg’s hard-hitting Toronto favorite, Eastern Promises.

Eastern Promises follows the story of London midwife Anna (Naomi Watts), who, during a night shift at the hospital where she works, tends to a nameless young girl who dies while giving birth. The girl carried no identification, and the only thing in her purse is a diary that’s written entirely in Russian. Determined to find a family for the orphaned baby girl, Anna takes the diary home for her Russian uncle to translate. He refuses to read the secrets of the dead—no matter what the reason—so a card in the diary leads Anna to look for help at a Russian restaurant. There, she inadvertently attracts the attention of a deadly organized crime family—especially Kirill (Vincent Cassel), the boss’s hot-headed son, and Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), a driver who’s babysitting Kirill while trying to work his way through the family’s ranks.

Eastern Promises is nothing if not intense. After a few scenes (particularly Mortensen’s infamous naked fight scene—which, just for the record, isn’t as in-your-face as you might think), I realized that I’d been holding my breath—and I had to stop and take a deep, heart re-starting breath. The action scenes are powerful—but they’re also quite gruesome. In fact, the blood starts flowing just a few minutes into the movie—and some of the deaths are pretty brutal, not to mention seriously graphic. So this definitely isn’t a film for the squeamish.

If you can handle the gut-wrenching violence, though, you’ll find that Eastern Promises also offers an interesting story about innocence, trust, and betrayal. The characters are solid and well-developed (though Watts’s character is often ridiculously naïve, making her rather annoying at times), as are the performances—especially Mortensen’s (no surprise there). And while the organized crime story isn’t exactly unique, it’s absorbing—and thrilling—nonetheless.

But the film’s greatest offence isn’t in what it does—but in what it doesn’t do. Specifically, it doesn’t really end; it just stops. Toward the end of the film, there’s a pretty major revelation—one that’s just left hanging, as if it were no big deal. And there’s no follow-through. When the credits roll, there are too many questions left unanswered—and a whole story left to be told. It just feels like there’s something missing—like it should have ended with “To Be Continued.”

Eastern Promises definitely has a lot going for it—from its solid performances to its breath-taking action. But while the audience in Toronto loved it enough to give it the People’s Choice Award, I wasn’t completely sold—so I think I’m going to hold off for a while before sending in my best picture nomination.

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