Eastern Promises tells the story of a driver (Viggo Mortensen) for the Russian mafia in London, who hopes to gain entry to the ‘family’.
His story intertwines with a hospital midwife (Naomi Watts) who delivers a baby one evening but loses the mother. Finding a diary in Russian she sets about solving the mystery of what relatives the baby has following the mother’s death.
This is bleak stuff, featuring what I imagine is a fairly realistic portrayal of the sex traffic trade – Russian girls being brought into London with the promise of a better life, only to be forced into prostitution. Kept under control by forced daily doses of heroin.
The characterisation is pretty strong in the film and fortunately they never slip too far into Russian stereotyping. Of course they all like a drink though
Viggo Mortensen really plays his part well – with (from a non-Russian point of view) a convincing rather than comedy Russian accent.
Armin Mueller-Stahl who plays Semyon, the head of the ‘vory v zakone’ mafia is brilliant. An older man, carrying a great deal of menace in his eyes, he fills the screen with a nasty undercurrent whenever he is involved.
As the story delves deeper into the dead girl’s diary it becomes clear that the ‘vory v zakone’ are involved and Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts) begins to wish she’d never got involved in any of it but feels she has to for the sake of the motherless child.
Eastern Promises is a depressing film, while Mortensen’s character tries to do good where he can the world he moves in is so murky that any positive gesture is soon wiped out.
There are a couple of great twists, the main one I did not see coming at all.
Not my cup of tea but an enjoyable watch, mainly because of the good acting and well written dialogue.
If you can stomach an hour and a half of harrowing despondency and brutal violence then this could be the film for you.