Eastern Promises

Anna (Naomi Watts), a London nurse, witnesses a woman die during childbirth.  Anna discovers amongst her possessions a diary with an address that may find the baby a home.  Upon arrival she meets Semyon a kindly restaurateur.  In reality a powerful Russian gangster, Semyon will stop at nothing to retrieve the incriminating diary.  Helped by his bodyguard Nicolai (Viggo Mortensen), Semyon slowly tightens his ruthless grip on Anna.  In this tale of power corrupting absolutely, the lines between good and evil is one Anna experiences to her growing horror.
David Cronenberg’s success lies in his directorial intensity. The Fly and A History of Violence showed his keen eye for visceral man-made horror.  Discovering people’s true identities and the relentless physical horror drives the films’ plot.  Looking at the veneer of respectability his protagonists wear, the crime syndicate encroach themselves into English society broadening their power base.  Semyon’s demeanour changes with savage speed in his quest for dominance showing no mercy even to his wayward son.  Nicolai also hides secrets of his own, with only the naive Anna being the most ‘real’ character in the film.

Once again successfully inhabiting a role, Viggo Mortensen adds another string to his acting bow.  His magnetic performance as the ice cool minder shows how he has become emotionally blunted by his violent world.  With a script that also looks at how people behave by their chosen actions, Mortensen’s Nicolai is an intriguing enigma haunted by his victims’ faces.  Naomi Watts provides effective support as Anna, providing one of the few moments of optimism ever seen in Cronenberg’s black worldview. 
The screenplay creates an unsettling image of London that blends well with Cronenberg’s visuals.  Steve Knight’s script has a cold remoteness however, preventing the story from being compelling viewing.  The matter of fact violence may be extreme but this matches the dark precision of the gangsters’ daily lives. The cinematography shoots even the day scenes in a permanent haze of darkness which suits the mobsters’ dark world.
Eastern Promises shows how the mirage of western life can become an emotional desert for its’ inhabitants.  The solid acting and direction shows that Cronenberg has lost none of his unique story telling skills that adds another fine film amongst his stellar output.
Rating out of 10:  7

Day Watch

Since Max Schreck first donned the fangs in 1922’s Nosferatu, vampire movies have thrived. Each decade has bought differing interpretations to the myths with varying degrees of success. Day Watch is the second part of a trilogy chronicling the battle between light and dark forces determining earths’ fate. Continuing to play with the usual conventions, Day Watch presents another unique perspective on vampire lore.
Anton (Konstantin Khabensky) is a Day Watcher who ensures the streets are safe from the shadowy ‘Dark Others’ led by Zavulon (Victor Verzbitsky). Zavulon is mentoring Anton’s son Yegor who has joined the dark side, becoming one of its more gifted protégées. When Anton learns of a plot by Zavulon to upset the centuries old truce between the two forces, he determines to find the Chalk of Fate. Whoever has the chalk can rewrite history, which Anton hopes to use to erase past mistakes. With a dark apocalypse looming, it’s up to Anton to defeat the dark vampiric brethren once and for all.
Despite the at times very complex plotting, Day Watch dazzles on several fronts. With a creative vision not seen in recent Hollywood films, the film successfully shows off its’ own quirkily stylish blend of horror and humour. Being lighter in terms of tone and scenery compared with the first entry, Day Watch doesn’t go overboard in comedic excess in deference to delivering an eyeful of action. The special effects are genuinely amazing enhancing rather than detracting from the story. Whilst the story at times becomes rather muddled, the momentum never stops from moving at a brisk pace.
Being a second chapter in a trilogy, the film adheres to the rule of having a more personal journey for our hero. Further exploring Anton’s background shows his many attempts at drawing his son out from the dark forces that envelope him. The bleakness of the Russian weather assists to create the films’ unique flavour. The clever use of subtitles shows the level of inventive thought that reflects in this consistently entertaining film.
It’s interesting to note that foreign made vampire films have been more successful at portraying the legend. Day Watch continues this trend with a story full of ideas that sets things nicely for a third outing of vampiric mayhem. Producing something fresh and original from a long lasting concept ensures that the undead mythology still has a few more tales to tell.
Rating out of 10: 7
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