Tuesday, 20 July 2010

He's not the driver, he's the undertaker

It can't be easy to look like the walking embodiment of evil, but Viggo Mortensen manages it in Eastern Promises. Even amongst the other thorougly evil Russian gangsters he looks like a bad sort. Maybe it's the sunglasses, or the hair, or the sight of him defrosting a frozen corpse with a hair dryer - he definitely looks mean. He serves as the driver and 'undertaker' for a Russian crime family, who specialise in a variety of bad things. A midwife starts poking around asking questions about a baby that was born in her hospital. Obviously this isn't a good idea. Viggo Mortensen's character has a habit of waiting for her in ominous places (he makes anywhere looking ominous) and saying nice things that sound very threatening. It's a dark and convincing world, and at times extremely violent. David Cronenberg's previous film, A History of Violence, showed how he can punctuate a drama with some nasty scenes. Here it's as unpleasant as it's meant to be, starting as it means to go on with a slicey assassination in a barber shop. This shady world is so convincing, the characters so horribly realistic, that you don't see the surprise coming. It's the best sort of twist, one that has clues laid throughout the plot that you don't want to notice, until one scene changes everything and it all makes sense.

As a gangster film it doesn't have flair or comedy; it's more of a dark, violent drama. It may be categorised as a 'thriller' but there aren't that many thrills, it's more worrying. You'll worry about the silly woman who won't stop going to see evil criminals. You'll worry what the crime boss means when he looks at a baby and says 'we can do a deal, yes?'. You'll also worry about any scene that involves the walking embodiment of evil. It occurred to me halfway through watching it that Liam Neeson could turn up and easily kill all of these people. He doesn't do that, but he could.

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