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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
me, you don’t want to miss this one, so get it ASAP!
- Nicholas Sheffo