Eastern Promises treads tricky ground, moving carefully between sombre London melancholy and Tarantinoesque gangster swagger. And given just how damn overdone both of those ingredients are, it could be lauded as a remarkable success.
But then, this is canny Canadian story-wizard David Cronenberg: treading tricky ground only just gets you in the door. With a body of work as gruellingly masterful as his, it’s fair that we want something more. And he offers it: Eastern Promises’ characters are the most human, dirty, stinky, flesh-and-blood group of ruffians yet depicted by the director.
Mortensen, as Cronenberg’s tortured wanderer du jour, offers a far more interesting performance than as his History of Violence cipher. And Vincent Cassell is… well, he’s Vincent Cassell, which is to say he’s a loathsome rat-man, so if you’re casting him as a loathsome rat-man, congratulations, instant star turn.
Yet, just when you think Eastern Promises is doing something really brave and departing from all the things that unite Cronenberg’s oeuvre (visceral body-angst, subjective realities, etc, etc), things go a little bit… Cronenbergian.
Let’s steer clear of anything that happens past an hour in, because there’s this awesome scene, followed by one plot development that happens that just whips you about the chops and forces you to sit up and wonder what movie we’ve just been dropped into. Unfortunately, everything after this point answers that question adroitly: A really shit one!
So what’s the deal? Is this a movie that turns story on its head, or is it just an intriguing movie with a really crap last act? Like Spider and Violence before it, there’s no easy answer to that one – kind of like most of the questions in a Cronenberg movie.
Dave, in the words of your countrywoman: Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?