Oh yes, there are other stars, but for me it's Mortensen, Cassel and Cronenberg that are the main draws. My only concern was what way Cronenberg would take the story and what the DVD would hold.
She connects with a local Russian restaurant where she may have worked, a restaurant that is a front for Russian gangsters. Seymon, played by the excellent Armin Mueller-Stahl, owns the club and offers her some assistance, although she begins to be suspicious of his intentions, especially with the behaviour of his son Kirill, played by Vincent Cassel, and his "driver" Nikolai, played by Viggo Mortensen.
From here I shall tell you no more on the plot, other than their paths move closer and their fates become connected.
The story is a rather unique one, and I don't mean in the usual David Cronenberg style, but that there aren't many films out there that it shares plot lines with. Once again Cronenberg has found a very different viewpoint to his film than other Directors would and, following on from A History of Violence, without resorting to his usual trademarks.
In fact this film is far from violent, yes there are a few scenes of graphic violence, but what it is doing is showing you everything about the violence when it happens and not pulling back from it.
Unlike other films it doesn't try and show you as much violence as it can in the worst possible ways and make you feel disgusted. What it does is when the characters and story come to a point of violence it is thoroughly embraced and shown in a realistic and quite cold manner. It doesn't glorify or stylise the violence involved in the film.
The story itself is very strong and is accompanied by some great cinematography showing the dark and dingy areas of London, and all the while managing to make a big film feel out of tight locations.
Mortensen is fantastic in this role, although it isn't really a million miles away from A History of Violence, here he brings something new and unique to it and doesn't rely on the character we've seen before and could have well expected to see again.
Here his character is embracing the violence and aggression that is required in his position, rather than hiding from it and trying to bury the past, and there's compassion and a cold, single minded purpose that drives him, and you're never entirely sure of his motives, something that so effectively catches you off guard on a number of occasions.
Cassel is brilliant, as always, and brings a great depth to his character. He's weak, confused and struggling with who he is and what his father wants him to be, all great traits that he develops through the film. Although his character plays an important role in the others stories, he doesn't have enough story of his own, which I do find a little bit of a shame being such a fan of Cassel's. Still, he gives a strong performance, at least as strong as his character allows.
Watts also deserves a strong mention, although her character is rather transparent and quite flat, she does have a few stronger moments and her accent is completely surprising.
She has mastered an English accent perfectly, almost too well you might say, and it becomes a little distracting to begin with. I couldn't believe that it was her voice and kept thinking they'd cleverly overdubbed it. However they haven't, she really has mastered the accent so perfectly.
Initially Sthuler seemed to me to be a strange choice for the role of the Russian mafia boss. Of course he has the accent for the role and he's a fantastic actor, but he's so often playing softer more human roles, and he didn't strike me as someone who would carry off a part that called for such viciousness and cruelness. However when I saw the character he was perfect, and his performance was superb. He gave a different kind of strength to the character, not all brooding and menace, but he was convincing as a normal family man who is also a cold and calculating man who cares little for the lives outside his family.
There are some great scenes in the film, and two that specifically stand out for me were the scene of initiation in front of the leaders of the gang where Mortensen is seated naked in front of them and they quiz him on his past and his tattoos - tattoos are used as markings to chronicle the criminal history of Russian convicts - then there's the sauna fight scene where Mortensen is once again naked and gets attacked by two men armed with knives. That last scene has to be one of the most powerful and realistic fight scenes I've seen in some time.
Dolby Digital 5.1
Not a great deal of need of all the speakers here, but there's a little use of the rears, nothing to overpower the film and detract from the focus on the actors and their performances.
The picture is good but it is at its best during the darker scenes.
Both features are pretty short, and the first, Secrets and Stories, looks at the film and hears from the stars as well as the writer and the director in a pretty standard fashion.
Marked for Life is a more interesting feature that takes a little look at the idea and work put into the tattoo design for the lead character. It features the director, writer, lead and production design team talking about the tattoos and what they symbolise for the character.
The film does follow History of Violence in feel, but it certainly doesn't follow what you would expect from Cronenberg. This is another character based story with a strong footing in reality, something Cronenberg hasn't always been noted for but is carving new ground in his career following of late.
With a great line up of actors giving strong performances in a powerful well written story, Eastern Promises is an enjoyable film that has some strong messages about violence and about people.
It also raises some interesting questions, similar to those that come out of viewing History of Violence, and what's great is that it doesn't necessarily try and answer them, it just presents them without judgement.
The offering on DVD isn't particularly strong with only two featurettes and no audio commentary, you are reliant on the film itself. Even without the extras though, I'd say this is a DVD worth watching if you haven't already seen the film, if you have, then wait for a feature rich release.