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David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen follow up 2005's A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE with another joint effort in EASTERN PROMISES. The film takes place in rainswept London, with Mortensen effortlessly inhabiting the role of a chauffeur (named Nikolai) for the Russian Mafia. The stoic Nikolai works for restaurant owner and powerful Mafia kingpin Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and his out-of-control son Kirill (Vincent Cassel). Cronenberg adds a few generous splashes of blood-red to his otherwise deeply grey cinematic palette as the movie begins, then allows his central storyline to unfold. Midwife Anna (Naomi Watts) comes crashing into Nikolai's life after discovering the diary of a young Russian woman who dies while giving birth, and her dealings with Semyon, and a subsequent translation of the diary, provide some horrific discoveries. Anna soon finds herself floundering in an alien world full of brutal and bloody violence, and it's not long before her own life hangs perilously in the balance.
Fans of A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE will find much to enjoy here, as will longstanding Cronenberg fans who have stuck with the director since his early low-budget horror days. Plenty of themes, ideas, and obsessions that have run right through the director's body of work are present, and he appears to have found a very effective muse in Mortensen. The chief talking points of the film will almost certainly revolve around Mortensen's extended nude sequence and the graphic killings and fight sequences, but EASTERN PROMISES is a weighty piece of work that will undoubtedly attract fans of intelligent, well-crafted thrillers.