A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that violence -- both graphic and implied -- permeates this film (just as it did Viggo Mortensen and David Cronenberg's last collaboration, A History of Violence). From the first scene (which shows a brutal throat cutting) on, it's clear that kids and teens aren't the intended audience. Women are manhandled, men are murdered, babies are kidnapped, sons are betrayed, and sexual acts are forced, with little or no emotion. There's also smoking, drinking, strong language, and full nudity. It all serves a complex storyline that yields an intriguing film. But if you're not a Cronenberg fan, you may walk away stunned and appalled.
What's the story?
A bloodied, pregnant young girl named Tatiana steps into a convenience store, collapses, and is rushed to the hospital, where midwife Anna (Naomi Watts), manages to save her baby's life, but not hers. Shocked at Tatiana's age -- she was only 14 -- and the circumstances surrounding her death -- she was beaten and drugged -- Anna looks through her belongings and finds a diary that she hopes will help her find the Russian girl's family. And so begins filmmaker David Cronenberg's EASTERN PROMISES, which delves into the underbelly of immigrant London, where newcomers are forced into prostitution, disabled young men are manipulated into murder, and a fearsome Russian syndicate controls everything. It's a world that Cronenberg deftly renders with a moody, gritty palette and characters so twisted they're practically cork-screwed. While paging through Tatiana's diary, which is written in Cyrillic, Anna finds a business card for a Russian restaurant. Thinking Tatiana might have worked there, she shows up on its doorstep and accepts owner Semyon's (Armin Mueller-Stahl) help translating it, since her own Russian uncle (Jerzy Skolimowski) won't. (It's a moment too naïve for words, one of the film's weaknesses that can't be easily explained.) But there's nothing benign about Semyon's offer. When Anna learns the diary's contents, it's too late to undo the damage. She must turn to the one man whose intent is hardest to read. Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) is the driver for Semyon's desperate son, Kirill (Vincent Cassel), but is he Anna's foe or friend? Who is he anyway?
Is it any good?
Cronenberg keeps Nikolai mysterious, a task for which the enigmatic Mortensen is more than worthy. He's unflappable, no matter what the job -- be it dismantling a corpse or parading nearly naked in front of the mob's top bosses. Veteran actor Armin Mueller-Stah conjures pure evil in a masterfully controlled performance)
Graphic violence is expected (required!) in Cronenberg's movies (Scanners, The Fly). But the accomplished auteur steps it up here, layering gore upon gore and overwhelming his own artistry. Just one example: A horrific-but-compelling ballet in which Nikolai is ambushed by two knife-wielding Chechen thugs in a bathhouse -- naked except for his extensive tattoos, he's as vulnerable as you can get -- is sabotaged and upstaged by a close-up of an eye being stabbed. (Oh, and then there's the scene of a throat getting hacked to bits as the movie opens...)
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the movie depicts mob life. Does it glamorize it or paint a more distasteful picture? How is it similar to and different from other movies about the mafia? Why are films in general fascinated by the criminal underworld? What about that subject drives filmmakers and screenwriters to explore it over and over? Families can also talk about the role of violence in the movie. Is it necessary to tell the story? Why or why not? How realistic do you think it is?
- In theaters: September 14, 2007
- On DVD or streaming: December 26, 2007
- Cast: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Naomi Watts, Viggo Mortensen
- Director: David Cronenberg
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong brutal and bloody violence, some graphic sexuality, language and nudity.
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