(Alliance, 2007) D: David Cronenberg, w/ Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts. Rating: NNN; DVD package: NN
Viggo Mortensen is Nikolai, a low-level Russian mobster in London, driving for the drunken son (Vincent Cassel) of the big boss (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and looking to move up in the organization. Naomi Watts is Anna, a midwife whose Jane Doe patient dies in childbirth, leaving her a Russian diary. Her need to find the infant’s relatives leads her into Nikolai’s world.
It sounds like a thriller, and it plays like one. We get murders, smuggling, prostitution, betrayal and one severely brutal fight. But David Cronenberg and writer Steven Knight are more interested in exploring the little-known world of the Russian Mafia than in providing conventional thrills, so the ending feels more like a first-act climax to something that’s shaping up to be brilliant.
Still, Knight’s smart script and Cronenberg’s fluid direction and understated menace provide plenty of pleasures.
Mortensen, Cassel and Mueller-Stahl make very convincing Russians and highly original gangsters. They never descend to the stereotypes established in The Godfather, a fact Mueller-Stahl proudly points out in the too-brief making-of doc.
The second doc, focusing on Russian gangland tattoos, is more interesting but, like the first, could use more detail. Maybe there’s a special edition in the works.
EXTRAS Making-of doc, Russian Mob tattoos doc. Widescreen. English, French audio, English, French, Spanish subtitles.