"Eastern Promises" is an engrossing tale that never lets up while delivering some rather original perspectives on life in the mafia. I can't wait for Cronenberg's next.
Eastern Promises (2007, HD-DVD/DVD Combo Disc)
Directors: David Cronenberg
Producers: David Cronenberg
Writers: Steven Knight (screenplay)
Features: * Featurettes * Bookmarking * Web Enabled * Dolby Digital 5.1 Plus/Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Viggo Mortensen ... Nikolai
Naomi Watts ... Anna
Vincent Cassel ... Kirill
Armin Mueller-Stahl ... Semyon
Sinéad Cusack ... Helen
Mina E. Mina ... Azim
Jerzy Skolimowski ... Stepan
Donald Sumpter ... Yuri
David Cronenberg is on quite a roll these days. In 2005, he moved from his typical nerve-bending visual mind warps like "eXistenz" and "The Fly", to more emotional, character-centric tales with "A History of Violence." It was a taut thriller that focused solely on the human condition. Cronenberg continues that thought process with "Eastern Promises", however this time, he paints a dark, freaky world around his wayward characters and manages to craft a film that's far more crafty and engrossing than his last--a hard feat to accomplish.
"Eastern Promises" follows a young midwife (Naomi Watts) who becomes entangled in the day-to-day affairs of some Russian mafia heads in England. She soon finds herself digging into their dirty secrets and a world she is completely unaware of. The film movies at a brisk pace and never once lets up, giving the viewer an inside view into the dark and often terrifying world of a Russian mafia family, a place American cinema has never dared go. It's this trip that provides the thrust that motivates and invites complexity to this otherwise simplistic story.
The film is perfectly punctuated by dazzling performances from the entire ensemble cast with Viggo Mortensen being the biggest standout. Mortensen's thug is man of rich complexity and desire. The naked shower room fight sequence touted by so many before the films release is brutal and earth shaking. Every cut of Mortensen's naked body hurts and the blood from the punches nearly hit the audiences face. It's nasty. It's raw and it's very real.
Cronenberg's direction is generally taut, but a bit hollow and stoic from time to time, a problem he can sometimes have. The lighting of the film is tad bright giving the film a somewhat artificial feel. But these flaws are few and far between. The real meat is the film's story which never once gives way to cliche moments or weak dialogue. The film's ridged finale is almost Shakespearean in nature.
"Eastern Promises" is a solid thriller that will leave you wanting more. It's an engrossing tale that never lets up while delivering some rather original perspectives on life in the mafia. I can't wait for Cronenberg's next.
Film Report Card:
As entertainment: A
As a film: A
This is a review of the HD-DVD version of "Eastern Promises."
Universal presents "Eastern Promises" on HD-DVD in 1.85:1 widescreen, encoded in 1080p/VC-1 video on a HD-30 dual-layer disc. I thought that the film looked a bit soft in theaters, but on HD-DVD, the film is surprisingly sharp. There are some dust specks and grain visible during darker sequences, however, dark sequences do not suffer from black crush at all. Color saturation is perfect. My only real complaint is that it seemed like textures were a bit flat. The lighting of the film is also a bit milky with certain scenes looking almost as though they were shot under fluorescent bulbs. It could be the director's choice, or it could be the HD-DVD. It's hard to tell.
Universal gives fans two tracks to choose from--a Dolby TrueHD track and a Dolby Digital Plus track. Both tracks are surprisingly subdued with little to no surround usage, though one hardly needs it with such a dialogue rich film. The surrounds mainly replicate the films gorgeous score, from composer Howard Shore. It's not really a problem, but it does cost this disc a "reference audio" rating 'A+' rating.
Universal has opted out of any decent special features for this release. Instead, we're treated to two weak featurettes.
* Secrets and Stories - There's some making-of material in this featurette, but it's not enough to be worth any more than a "once over."
* Marked for Life - This featurette runs only twelve minutes and isn't particularly interesting.
This is also a combo disc with the DVD on one side and the HD-DVD on the other.
Universal's standard MyScenes bookmarking feature is included. That's it. The featurettes are presented in high-def as well.
"Eastern Promises" comes in an "Elite" red case. Design is simple and in fitting with Universal's other titles however the disc touts the film's underwhelming HD-DVD exclusives a bit too much.
Easily Cronenberg's best film in the past five years (topping "A History of Violence"), "Eastern Promises" proves to be an intriguing mafia entry that takes a more original approach to well worn ideas and stories. The HD-DVD is pretty solid, but lacks any special features worth sinking your teeth into.
HD-DVD Report Card:
HD Content: N/A
Overall Value: A-
On HD-DVD: December 26th, 2007.
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----R. L. Shaffer