EASTERN PROMISES (David Cronenberg). 100 minutes. Opens Friday (September 14). Rating: NNNNN
Following his acclaimed a History Of Violence, David Cronenberg and Eastern Promises deliver in full. It's one of the director's best, and like AHOV, it employs a pretty simple premise and executes it superbly.
After discovering the diary of a dead 14-year-old Russian immigrant in London, hospital worker Naomi Watts finds herself and her family in jeopardy. That diary incriminates various members of the vory v zakone criminal underworld, including restaurant owner Armin Mueller-Stahl and his unpredictable son ( Vincent Cassel ). Laconic chauffeur Nikolai ( Viggo Mortensen ) is dispatched to secure the diary and dispose of any loose ends.
Writer Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things) has a great ear for the clash of different cultures jostling for a foothold in a foreign city. There's lots of dark humour in the dialogue, and the two extended families -- Russian and English -- assume equal weight.
Mortensen, with world-weary look, guarded posture and high-maintenance hairdo, is completely convincing. There's no trace of the actor here. Mueller-Stahl makes his twinkling baby blues more menacing than ever. The wild card is French actor Cassel, whose sadistic, possibly impotent Kirill keeps you on edge with his unpredictability.
Cronenberg knows how to create suspense in even the most seemingly ordinary scenes, and he mixes moods so masterfully that you'll be left slack-jawed with admiration. A fellow film critic thinks one controversial scene involving nudity and violence will likely be cut or digitally obscured by U.S. censors. So be grateful you can see this blunt, unforgettable scene uncut -- no pun intended -- up here.
For a recent Q&A with director Cronenberg, including audio clips, go to www.nowtoronto.com/issues/2007-08-30/movie_feature4.php.