4K UHD Review: Eastern Promises [Kino Lorber] | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, March 31st, 2023  

Eastern Promises

Studio: Kino Lorber

Jun 06, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Crimes of the Future, director David Cronenberg’s first feature film since 2014’s Map to the Stars, premiered last month at Cannes. The premise and trailer alone already have people hailing it as a return to the Canadian auteurs body-horror roots, a theme he pioneered throughout the 80s and 90s in films such as Videodrome, The Fly, Crash and eXistenZ. Beginning in the early aughts, Cronenberg segued into a more “grounded” phase of his career with films like A History of Violence, Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method; dramas lacking sci-fi or overt horror elements and also all starring Viggo Mortensen. Although this stretch of Cronenberg’s career did not include any monstrous prosthetics or sentient wounds, it did an excellent job of plumbing the darkness that exists in the depths of normal people leading seemingly normal lives.

Anyone worried that Cronenberg had gotten soft in the aughts need not; Eastern Promises opens with as gruesome a throat-slitting as any ever committed to screen. Set in the the working class neighborhoods of London populated by Russian and Turkish immigrants, the film is a thoughtful meditation on parenthood, cultural identity and the cost of revenge. The narrative is a bit of a bait and switch. The first act focuses on Anna, the British daughter of a deceased Russian father, living with her mother and uncle while she works as an emergency room nurse. When a young Russian prostitute dies on her operating table while giving birth, Anna finds herself compelled to return the baby to its family in Russia by translating the mother’s diary. Her quest leads her to a mob-owned restaurant and the lethal trifecta of soft-spoken gangster Seymon, his drunken son Kirill and their icy driver/bodyguard/fixer, Nikolai.

It’s a testament to how little Viggo Mortensen cared about movie stardom that he followed up his leading role in one of the most iconic film series of all time to team with a director that consistently cast him as vessels of simmering, hateful violence. There’s more to Nikolai than initially meets the eye, but Mortensen’s pitiless stare and second skin of prison tattoos sell the character before he’s even spoken a word. That he was nominated for an Oscar for the role isn’t surprising. As the story pivots away from Anna and we become enmeshed in the tragic love triangle between a merciless killer, his disappointing lout of a son and a man who is slowly coming between them, the film takes on a sort of mythic Shakespearean quality. Set amid the kitchens, alleys, hospitals rooms and loading docks of London, the drab settings come alive thanks to the cinematography of long time Cronenberg collaborator Peter Suschitzky and the sharp 4K transfer of Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray release. By the time you get to the vicious, bathhouse knife fight, you can practically smell the rain in the air and the blood on the tile.



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