It’s a film quite different than what we’ve seen from the director before, but his unique sensibilities are still noticeable throughout. The way EASTERN PROMISES confronts and plays with personal identity seems to recall one Cronenberg’s favorite themes. The use of tattoos as personal markers is fascinating, providing a visual stimulus as well as a way to silently give background to a character. Even the bare plot itself deals with transplanted immigrant culture and the struggle for identity that arises, which Cronenberg uses to showcase the interesting predicament of being an outsider, but also wielding a dangerous amount of power. (Not to mention you have a cast that includes American, French, Australian and German actors.) And as it was with HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, this is a movie as much about sexuality as it is about violence. Cassel’s closeted son, Mortensen’s brothel initiation, the act that sets the plot in motion—all are vital pieces of the puzzle. And sure, some of the violence is shocking and graphic, but so is, for example, Mortensen’s much hyped naked steamroom fight. It’s definitely a hard scene to watch, not just because of all the painful flopping around of dangly appendages, but it’s just a brutal fight, and Mortensen’s au naturel state adds a rawness and a vulnerability that sets it apart from other normal brawls.
As much as this is a Cronenberg film through and through, it wouldn’t work as well without the solid performances. Naomi Watts gives a good amount of depth to a character who mainly pushes the plot along. Cassel is an adequately slimy gangster. Armin Mueller-Stahl works as both a warm gentleman and a cold mob boss. But it’s Viggo Mortensen who really shines, in a role that’s much different than we’ve seen of him before. His gravelly-voiced henchman is just a cool character who almost feels like he belongs in a film noir. But more than that, Mortensen immerses himself in a rather dark performance to the point of complete believability (and what my Eastern European friend swears is a good Russian accent). And if Halle Berry can win an Oscar for getting naked, than Mortensen should get two or three for his cringe-worthy full-frontal fight.
Secrets and Stories (10:31): Some behind the scenes shots and interesting trivia thrown in from interviews, but a good chunk of it is the actor’s summing up their characters and the film’s plot.
Marked For Life (6:42): A quick but fascinating look at the use of tattoos in the film, from what they mean and the culture they represent to their physical application.
Extra Tidbit: To prepare for his role, Viggo Mortensen actually traveled to Russia and wandered around without assistance to absorb the culture and language.