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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Drama > Gangster > Eastern Promises (2007/HD-DVD Combo Format)

Eastern Promises (2007/Universal HD-DVD Combo Format)


Picture: B+/B-     Sound: B+/B-     Extras: C+     Film: B



NOTE: This version is now out of print, but the Blu-ray edition has been issued, which you can read about at this link:






Leave it to David Cronenberg to deliver two of the most distinct Gangster genre films amidst so many bad ones and with his personal stamp.  After the amazing History Of Violence (reviewed on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site), he has reteamed with Viggo Mortensen for Eastern Promises, one of the best of a smaller subcycle of Russian Gangster films that have been slowly surfacing here and there.  It will likely remain so for the foreseeable future.


Naomi Watts is medical worker Anna, who is just doing her job when she finds a book in Russian on a young pregnant woman who is scared and does not make it alive after being wheeled into her hospital.  Not being able to read the language, she could turn to some in her house, but instead goes to an acquaintance (Armin Mueller-Stahl) to help out, clueless as to his actual connection to and involvement in the young lady’s fate.


He is anxious to help, in part to cover for the constant misjudgments of his off-kilter son (a remarkable performance by Vincent Cassel) who is still in a wild stage his father hopes he grows out of.  To this end, he has Nikolai (Mortensen) as his body guard and ally, a formidable physical force as well as cunning thinker who quickly becomes a rival to the son, but that must take a back seat to diverting Anna’s inquisitive nature increasingly endangering her and those around her.


The screenplay by Steve Knight is one of the smartest, richest and most mature of the year, loaded with suspense, sudden bursts of violence that make sense, tension that is both about power and sex, then you have Cronenberg bringing it to life with an exceptional cast and approach most directors could not even begin to attempt.  After so many films about post-modernism, Science Fiction and the worst case scenario of man-meets machine, he is finding a way to continue the gangster genre in a way that picks up where Martin Scorsese and David Chase have (temporarily?) left off on it.


Mortensen continues to prove that he is one of the most underrated and underestimated actors in the business, in one of the most challenging roles of his career to date.  Many loved the inside look they were getting into the Russian Mob and though it is hard to say how much of this is authentic, it is so well-rounded that it is as palpable as any criminal arrangement we’ve seen in the genre in a long time.


The film’s violence is as tough as the toughest Gangster films, but it has to be or this film would never work.  Watts is also impressive as the film’s moral center, Stahl is at the top of his game and there are some great old school Gangster and Cold War touches many may miss, but shows how thorough the script really is.  All in all, Eastern Promises is one of the year’s true gems, a mature, intelligent, adult film that pulls no punches.



The 1080p VC-1 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image is very impressive and except for some minor stylization holding the picture back, offers fine performance throughout.  Cronenberg’s longtime Director of Photography Peter Suschitzky delivers once again, shooting on film and even after a different kind of art film with the grossly underrated Shopgirl, just gets better and better.  The anamorphically enhanced DVD side is not bad, but no match for the HD side.


The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is terrific and though the film can be dialogue-based, the sound mix has character and has the usual distinct character all Cronenberg film sound mixes offer.  The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 on the HD side and standard Dolby Digital 5.1 on the DVD side are regressively less impressive than the TrueHD, but are not bad for what they are.   Howard Shore’s score is very good, which is interesting as he just scored Scorsese’s The Departed, but the music has a different feel.


I should almost rate the HD side a grade higher for both image and sonics, but no matter the minor flaws, it is one of the best releases of a film in either HD format, but happens to be exclusive to HD-DVD.


Extras include web-enabled features only on the HD-DVD side, while two in-HD featurettes show the making of the film.  Secrets & Stories is about how Cronenberg made the film in London and took best advantage (as usual) of the locations, while Marked For Death explains that the tattoos are based on actual symbolism and offers their hidden history.  This is one of the few films this year that was so good, it could have used more extras.


Believe me, you don’t want to miss this one, so get it ASAP!



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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