Found in: Turkish language films
Eastern Promises is a 2007 crime drama mystery thriller film directed by David Cronenberg, from a screenplay written by Dirty Pretty Things writer Steven Knight. The film tells of a British midwife's interactions with the Russian mafia in London and stars Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts. Principal photography began November 2006, in locations in and around London. The film has been noted for its unexpected plot twist and for its violence and realistic depiction of the Russian criminal underworld, including its use of tattoos.
The film premiered September 8, 2007 at the Toronto International Film Festival, September 20, 2007 in Europe at the San Sebastian International Film Festival and went on general release in North America on September 21, 2007. The film was released in the United Kingdom on October 26, 2007. As of January 31, 2008, the film has grossed $51,202,291 worldwide and has received a positive critical reception, appearing on several U.S. critics' "top ten films" lists for 2007. Eastern Promises has won several awards, including the Audience Prize for best film at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Best Actor award for Mortensen at the 2007 British Independent Film Awards. The film received twelve Genie Award nominations, three Golden Globe Award nominations, and Mortensen was nominated for Best Actor at the 80th Academy Awards, losing to Daniel Day Lewis.
The movie opens with a murder in a barber shop. Later, Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts), a midwife at a London hospital, finds a Russian-language diary on the body of Tatiana, a fourteen-year-old girl who dies in childbirth. She also finds a card for the Trans-Siberian restaurant, which is owned by Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a boss in the Russian Mafia or vory v zakone ("thieves in law"). Anna sets out to track down the girl's family so that she can find a home for the dead mother's baby girl. Annas mother Helen (Sinead Cusack) does not discourage her, but Annas Kiev-born uncle Stepan (Jerzy Skolimowski), whom Anna asks for help with translation of the diary, urges caution. Through Semyon and her uncle, Anna comes to learn that Semyon and his bumbling and unstable son, Kirill (Vincent Cassel), had abused Tatiana and forced her into prostitution, and that Semyon had raped the girl.
Kirill's driver is the Russian-born Nikolai Luzhin (Viggo Mortensen), who also serves as the family's "cleaner", dumping dead bodies in the River Thames. Nikolai's star rises within the vory, due in part to Nikolai's protection of Kirill, who has authorized a hit on a rival Chechen vory leader . The hit was not approved by Semyon and was ill-advised, with the Chechen's brothers coming to England to seek vengeance. Semyon, afraid for his son's safety, hatches a plan. Semyon arranges to give "Kirill" up to the Chechens, which involves making Nikolai a full member of the vory, so he gets the same distinctive tattoos. A meeting is arranged at the Russian baths, and the Chechens are told that the tattooed Nikolai is actually Kirill. The Chechens attack Nikolai with knives, but Nikolai is able to kill them both. Nikolai is seriously wounded and is admitted to a hospital.
It is revealed near the end of the film that Nikolai is actually a member of the Russian Security Services (FSB) and a Scotland Yard informer on the Russian mafia in London as part of his undercover duties. Nikolai was able to read Tatiana's diary before Semyon destroyed it, and develops a plan to have Semyon arrested and convicted for Tatiana's rape, making Kirill the most powerful member of the London branch of the mob, but with Nikolai as the power behind the throne. The plan works, with Anna gaining custody of the baby and Nikolai eventually becoming the London vory crime boss.
Viggo Mortensen as Nikolai Luzhin
Naomi Watts as Anna Khitrova, Semyon calls her "Anna Ivanovna" (using the patronymic)
Vincent Cassel as Kirill
Armin Mueller-Stahl as Semyon
Jerzy Skolimowski as Stepan
Mina E. Mina as Azim
Josef Altin as Ekrem
Sinead Cusack as Helen
Donald Sumpter as Yuri
Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse as Tatiana
Tatiana Maslany, voice of Tatiana
Dan Fleury as Andrei
Igor Outkine, accordionist and singer in the birthday party scene
Shooting began in November 2006, and various scenes were filmed in St John Street, Farringdon, London. Filming also took place in Broadway Market, Hackney.
The "Trans-Siberian Restaurant" is located in the Farmiloe Building, 34 St John Street, next to Smithfield Market. This is the 6th most popular film and TV location in London, having also been used for Spooks, Penelope, and Batman Begins.
The entrance to the "Ankara Social Club" of the film is actually the front door of a residential flat. The Broadway Market hair dresser known as "Broadway Gents Hairstylist" was changed to "Azim's Hair Salon", where in the film one of the Russians is murdered. The owner Mr. Ismail Yesiloglu decided to keep most of the shop front after filming. In the original script, the name was "Ozim's Hair Salon", but it was later changed to "Azim's" as there is no such name as Ozim in Turkish.
According to the New York Daily News, Viggo Mortensen studied Russian gangsters and their tattoos, and also consulted a documentary on the subject called The Mark of Cain (2000). The tattoos that he wore were, according to the New York Daily News, so real that when he went into a Russian restaurant in London, a Russian couple sitting next to him became very quiet when they saw the tattoos on his hands, but since Mortensen could not speak ten words of Russian the mood of the restaurant changed back to normal. From that day on he washed off his tattoos when he went off the set. Mortensen said of the significance of the tattoos:
"I talked to them about what they meant and where they were on the body, what that said about where they'd been, what their specialties were, what their ethnic and geographical affiliations were," Mortensen says. "Basically their history, their calling card, is their body."
When asked in an interview about the difference between "gun violence" and "knife violence", Cronenberg replied, "We have no guns in this movie. There were no guns in the script. The choice of those curved knives we use in the steam bath was mine. Theyre not some kind of exotic Turkish knives, theyre linoleum knives. I felt that these guys could walk around in the streets with these knives, and if they were ever caught, they could say 'were linoleum cutters'."
Adam Nayman of Eye Weekly reported that director David Cronenberg said "Just don't give the plot away" and Nayman wrote "His request is understandable." Nayman said, "There is one scene the in-depth discussion of which prompted the director's anti-spoiler request referenced at the top of this story that should rank not only in his personal pantheon of spectacularly deployed gore but among the most exhilaratingly visceral patches of cinema, period, full stop." Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert noted Cronenberg's quote and agreed, saying "He is correct that it would be fatal, because this is not a movie of what or how, but of why. And for a long time you don't see the why coming."
The film premiered September 8, 2007 at the Toronto International Film Festival where it won the Audience Prize for best film on September 15, 2007. Eastern Promises opened in limited release in Russia on September 13, 2007.
In the United States and Canada, the film opened in limited release in 15 theaters on September 14, 2007 and grossed $547,092 — averaging $36,472 per theater. The film opened in wide release in the United States and Canada on September 21, 2007 and ranked 5 at the box office, grossing $5,659,133 — an average of $4,030 per theater. The film has grossed $51,202,291 worldwide as of January 31, 2008 — $17,266,000 in the United States and Canada and $33,936,291 in other territories.
The film took part in competition at the San Sebastian Film Festival September 20 2007.
The film was shown at the London Film Festival on October 17, 2007 and was released in the United Kingdom on October 26, 2007.
The film received positive reviews from critics. As of June 27, 2008, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 88% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 177 reviews. On Metacritic, the film had an average score of 82 out of 100, based on 35 reviews. Todd McCarthy of Variety, David Elliott of The San Diego Union-Tribune, and film critic Tony Medley noted the twists in the film.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four stars and wrote "Eastern Promises is no ordinary crime thriller, just as Cronenberg is no ordinary director", and said "Cronenberg has moved film by film into the top rank of directors, and here he wisely reunites with Mortensen" who "digs so deeply into the role you may not recognize him at first." Ebert said the film has a fight scene that "sets the same kind of standard that The French Connection set for chases. Years from now, it will be referred to as a benchmark."
J. Hoberman of the Village Voice said "I've said it before and hope to again: David Cronenberg is the most provocative, original, and consistently excellent North American director of his generation." Hoberman said the film is "directed with considerable formal intelligence and brooding power" and continues the trend of "murderous family dramas" seen in Spider and A History of Violence. Hoberman called the film "graphic but never gratuitous in its violence", "garish yet restrained", "a masterful mood piece", "deceptively generic" and said the film "suggests a naturalized version of the recent Russian horror flick Night Watch." When describing the cast, Hoberman said "Mueller-Stahl may be perfunctory...but Vincent Cassel literally flings himself into [his role]" and "Mortensen is even more electrifying as Nikolai than in A History of Violence"
Chris Vognar of The Dallas Morning News gave the film a "B+" and said "The film's genius performance belongs to the venerable Armin Mueller-Stahl, who plays the family head with a twinkling eye and an air of avuncular, Old World charm." Vognar wrote "Where some may see melodrama, Mr. Cronenberg locates timeless, elemental struggles between good and evil, right and wrong. But he makes sure to place a mysterious gray area front and center, personified here by Mr. Mortensen's Nikolai", writing "Nikolai Luzhin is...like Ray Bradbury's Illustrated Man...only more dangerous" and "scarily enigmatic." Vognar wrote that Eastern Promises shares themes of "ambiguous identity and rage-soaked duality" with A History of Violence and said both films "have a lock-step precision and both take a sly kind of joy in subverting genre expectations." Vognar said Eastern Promises "is a little too mechanical for its own good...but the mechanics also produce an admirable crispness and sense of purpose, a sense that the man behind the camera knows exactly what he's doing at all times."
Film Journal International critic Doris Toumarkine said the film is a "highly entertaining but sometimes revolting look at a particularly venal branch of the Russian mob." Toumarkine wrote that Mortensen and Watts "are intriguing moral counterpoints. They are also the key ingredients that make Eastern Promises a highly delectable and cinematically rich borsht that upscale film fans will devour." She described Mortensen's performance as "startling," called Watts "touching," Cassel "particularly delicious," but said "Mueller-Stahl, Cusack, and Skolimowski dont have as much to chew on." She said the film "is also blessed by Howard Shore's restrained score, which lets the films other estimable elements breathe through." Toumarkine also said the film is "essentially a character-driven crime thriller but is also a bloody tour de force laced with considerable nudity and sexually bold content that will rattle the squeamish."
Bruce Westbrook of the Houston Chronicle gave the film one star out of four and said it had a "contrived plot" and wrote "what it's really about, more than sensitivity for displaced people or social analyses, is violence — hideous, gruesome, over-the-top violence." Westbrook said "For Cronenberg, such cheap sensationalism is business as usual, and this far into his career, that business has slipped into artistic bankruptcy." Westbrook wrote the film "isn't about Russian gangs so much as Cronenberg's own dark passions not just for violence but excruciating carnage, which he brandishes mercilessly" and that the film was "a stifling descent into grim shock and disturbing awe."
Awards and nominations
The film received 3 Golden Globe nominations for the 65th Golden Globe Awards, winning none. Eastern Promises was nominated for Best Motion Picture - Drama. Viggo Mortensen was nominated for Best Performance By An Actor In A Motion Picture - Drama. And Howard Shore was nominated for Best Original Score for a Motion Picture.
The film was nominated in five different categories in the British Independent Film Awards for 2007, and won in one category, gaining a Best Performance by an Actor in a British Independent Film award for Mortensen.
Mortensen was also nominated for Best Actor at the 80th Academy Awards, but told the Associated Press, "If there's a strike I will not go." — a reference to the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike. On February 12, 2008 the strike ended, and he attended the ceremony.
Best Motion Picture
Achievement in Art Direction/Production Design (Carol Spier)
Achievement in Costume Design (Denise Cronenberg)
Achievement in Cinematography (Peter Suschitzky)
Achievement in Direction (David Cronenberg)
Achievement in Editing (Ronald Sanders)
Achievement in Music - Original Score (Howard Shore)
Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Viggo Mortensen)
Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Armin Mueller-Stahl)
Achievement in Overall Sound
Achievement in Sound Editing
Original Screenplay (Steve Knight)
Top ten lists
2nd - J. Hoberman, The Village Voice
4th - Manohla Dargis, The New York Times (tied with Colossal Youth)
4th - Steven Rea, The Philadelphia Inquirer
5th - Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter
7th - Liam Lacey & Rick Groen, The Globe and Mail
7th - Scott Foundas, LA Weekly (tied with ''Before the Devil Knows You're Dead)
8th - Desson Thomson, The Washington Post
9th - Nathan Lee, The Village Voice
9th - Shawn Levy, The Oregonian
10th - Jack Mathews, New York Daily News
10th - Marjorie Baumgarten, The Austin Chronicle
Eastern Promises'' movie trailer at Times Online
David Cronenberg's Preparation for Directing Eastern Promises, an Amazon reference list