Eastern Promises

dir. David Cronenberg

Eastern Promises

dir. David Cronenberg

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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Cronenberg reunited with his History of Violence star Viggo Mortensen for this pungently seamy, London-set underworld drama.

Finding a Russian-language diary among the belongings of a young teenage girl who died in childbirth, London nurse Anna (Naomi Watts) learns that the girl had been part of a human trafficking and prostitution ring run by the Russian Mafia. Seeking to locate the girl's family, Anna descends into the London underworld, where she finds an unlikely guide in Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), a mob chauffeur who also functions as a part-time hitman and full-time guardian for the wastrel son (Vincent Cassel) of godfather Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl). As Anna's search becomes intertwined with a brewing internecine mob war, her life becomes ever more dependent on the granitic Nikolai, whose motives and loyalties remain far from clear. Cronenberg's second collaboration with Viggo Mortensen (who received a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his performance), this pungently seamy underworld drama continues the intriguing development of the divided-self motif that the two had begun in A History of Violence. Whereas so many previous Cronenberg protagonists had found themselves helpless (even though complicit) in the face of their physical or psychological transformations, Mortensen's Tom Stall and Nikolai are the deliberate, carefully constructed identities of a forceful and controlling will — but ones that leave the person who bears them equally unsure as to the nature of their "true" self.