Despite what the ads said to the contrary, "Eastern Promises" didn't seem to come out in theatres last week, but the extra seven days' wait was well worth it.
London mid-wife Anna delivers a baby girl, Christine, to a young Russian mother who dies in the operating room. Anna finds a diary written in Russian, and since her Russian uncle refuses to translate for her (Anna wants to find the girl’s family), Anna goes to a restaurant looking for help at a restaurant whose address was on a card in the dairy. Restaurant owner Semyon offers to translate the book; meanwhile, Semyon’s son, Kirill, and his chauffer, Nikolai, get rid of a body.
Kirill wants Nikolai to move up the ladder in his father’s illegal business. After Nikolai gets rid of Anna’s uncle because he knew what was in the diary, Semyon promotes Nikolai by giving him star tattoos. It’s all a set up though because the man who Kirill had killed has brothers who want vengeance.
As stories go, it's a winner. Naomi Watts as Anna works well for the film, though some of the telltale markings of director David Cronenberg's view of showing violence: it's violent, messy, and not always something you'd want to welcome into your living room with the kids, the dog, and a bowl of popcorn. But no one said it's a kid movie, and if you hoping to avoid violence, odds are "Sydney White" is a theatre or two down the hallway.
I will confess a fondness for the gritty sort of films, so I enjoyed the "Promises" kept in that regard. Anything with the underworld is good for that, toss in the often depicted on film, but rarely heard about in the news, of the Russian mob, and you've got the elements that Cronenberg can paint to be a scene of just how inhumane people *could* be to one another... it's left to you to decide where Hollywood may be filling in the blanks and how much could be a reality, somewhere.
The plot is not so much a Point A to Point B as it is somewhat like opening a child's Russian doll toy; each one is a new discovery and a deeper entry into the labyrinth of the film -- and definitely worth taking a crack at if you're not too squeamish.