Having a computer again means I can finally write about Eastern Promises, the new David Cronenberg film which I saw on Friday. It's a very good movie, though not Cronenberg's best film by far. It's about on par with A History of Violence.
When I first started watching Cronenberg movies, I found something subtly unsettling about his style, but now I was just kind of pleased to be seeing the familiar intercut closeups, usually with the characters' shoulders just above the frame, and the very slight distortion that makes faces seem to puncture the screen, though not so obtrusively as to make one overly conscious of the technique. Although this movie's about the Russian Mafia in London, and not the Philadelphia based Irish Mafia of A History of Violence, Cronenberg and his skilled cinematographer, Peter Suschitzky, use similar soft, warm lighting for the abodes of these gangsters. You can smell the burnished red leather seats and black leather jackets.
Although Naomi Watts is nominally the star and the audience's POV, she's almost invisible. Viggo Mortensen is the character everyone will be thinking about while watching the movie, not just because Mortensen fits so perfectly into what is an unusual role for him. His character, Nikolai, is brutal, but quite cool. You spend a lot of time figuring out what he's about.
Perhaps the weakest aspect of the movie is its framing as a conventional thriller, but a story seeps through about desperate people becoming the prey of a quiet, traditional institution, and the savagery of the human animal. I wish more time had been spent on the young prostitutes, and their odd little society in the private brothels of the Russian Mafia. But perhaps its their lack of voice, like another character's repressed homosexuality, that best creates a sense of the anti-organic institution. This is visually reflected by Cronenberg's unrestrained portrayals of human flesh, as the movie opens with one of the young prostitutes giving birth to a tiny blood-spattered baby, seen in a tight closeup, its fragile limbs and face clasped by medical instruments.