easternpromisestheatrical.jpgCronenberg’s History of Violence (2005) played deceptively shallow characterization against incredibly complex motives. The movie doesn’t ooze overplayed emotions and maniacal laughter but uses its very plausibility as the source of drama and suspense – very much the antithesis of the blockbuster comic movie template. Eastern Promises (2007) seems to be cut from the same mold.

Anna (Naomi Watts) is a midwife in a London hospital and lives with her English mother and never-sober Russian uncle. A pregnant woman dies in childbirth while Anna is on duty. The child is saved, and Anna sets out on a mission to find the dead mother’s family to keep the baby from the foster-care system. Using the mother’s Russian diary as her only clue, her search leads her to the questionable Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who is, unknown to her, the Russian family boss. When she crosses paths with the family driver Nikolai (Viggo MortensenHistory of Violence, Lord of the Rings), both of their worlds threaten to collapse and destroy everything, even their identities.

Despite the intriguing plot, the characters in the beginning of the movie are extremely, suspiciously, fake. The first twenty minutes feels like more of a screen test than a film with trained actors, reminiscent of the beginning of David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. (2001). As the film picks up momentum, it becomes a bit more lively but never quite reaches an exciting movie pace. The pacing becomes a double-edged sword. It plays down the glazed feel of cinema and produces a much more realistic feel to the story – which also lends the entire movie to boredom.

No matter how interesting the movie seemed, with its bloody violence andeasternpromises-2.jpg portrayal of the inner-workings of a totally different world (and how that world interacts with the normal life of an ordinary midwife), the plot seems thin and weak and not enough to keep the attention of the average moviegoer.

That’s not to say the movie isn’t worth seeing. Viggo’s acting, accent and all, is spot-on, and it shows him in one of the best roles to exhibit his ability. Then again, his character, while intriguing, isn’t the focus and isn’t built to carry the film. In the end, it feels stripped and sedated, and uses violence as a last-ditch effort to startle its audience into paying attention.