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Movie Review: "Eastern Promises"

Since the Cubs had the day off yesterday -- and apparently, I didn't miss much by missing most of the Brewers' 13-5 blowout of the Cardinals -- I decided to take in this new film, particularly since it was free (a DGA sponsored screening).

It begins with two events that seem completely unrelated: a Russian gangster is savagely murdered (recommendation: if you see this movie, see it before you eat, because there are some extremely stomach-churning killings) by someone who appears to be his ally (this sort of thing happens several more times in the film). Right afterwards a pregnant young woman comes into a pharmacy, bleeding; she gives birth and then dies.

These events become related because of the midwife who delivers the baby, Anna (Naomi Watts, who is spectacular in the role) -- her father, now deceased, was Russian. We learn that she was married, but now divorced, she lives with her mother and an uncle who spends most of his time drinking and criticizing everything in the household.

We meet some more people connected to the first murder when Anna finds a diary that the pregnant young woman had kept -- in Russian -- and inside is a business card from a Russian restaurant. The owner of the restaurant, Semyon, who seems at first a kindly old man (Armin Mueller-Stahl), turns out to be the ruthless leader of a gang of London-based Russian gangsters. The movie is not only set in London, but mostly filmed there as well -- it never seems to stop raining in this film, yet another way the dark mood is set.

Younger members of the gang include Semyon's son Kirill (French actor Vincent Cassel, so good in Ocean's Twelve and Thirteen) and Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen).

And here I should probably stop, because if I tell you more, I'd give you too many spoilers. Suffice to say that Anna and the gang members come into contact because of the diary, and for a very long time not much seems to happen -- but in one specific scene, one event reveals why certain characters have acted the way they have, and everything falls into place.

This is a very violent film -- not for the squeamish -- and in addition to several very bloody throat-slashings, there is an already-notorious fight scene in which Mortensen, naked in a bathhouse, fights two knife-wielding thugs.

But the story is well-crafted and the acting is top-rate and director David Cronenberg (who did "A History of Violence", "M. Butterfly", and "The Fly", among others) has hit all the right notes. Well worth seeing, even if you have to avert your eyes for the bloodier scenes.


I'll have the usual game post this afternoon. Go Cubs!