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There’s life in this old Bolshevik yet


Well, the news of Warner’s switch to Blu-ray’s exclusivity and expected demise of HD DVD may have stolen the headlines, but the format certainly isn’t going to vanish overnight. Before Universal and Paramount move over to Blu-ray as well, hammering the final nail into HD DVD’s coffin, I will continue to buy new releases that are exclusive to the format.

One of these is Eastern Promises, which arrived this morning. I wasn’t too taken by David Cronenberg’s previous two films, Spider and A History of Violence, but this one, while very much a companion piece to them, for some reason appealed to me much more. Maybe it’s the excellent cast, including Naomi Watts, Viggo Mortensen, Sinéad Cusack and Vincent Cassel, but the other two films had stellar talent in front of the camera as well (including Mortensen, in the case of A History of Violence). Maybe it’s the fact that the London location resonates with me more than Violence’s small-town America - but then again, Spider was also set in London. It’s not even the subject matter, since gangster movies generally irritate me. (Not that this is a typical gangster movie in any sense: for one thing, the gangsters in this film don’t say “fuck” in every sentence and call each other “faggots” every five minutes. For another, it’s not shot in near-black and white, headache-inducing shakeycam.) I don’t know why, but this one really clicked for me, and I’m sorry I didn’t get to see it before the end of 2007, because, if I had, it would have garnered a pretty high position in my annual Top 10.

Oh, and the HD DVD transfer is also solid, proving once again that Universal’s standard for DI-sourced material is among the best (the less said about their track record for catalogue releases, though, the better). It looks to have been slightly degrained, and it isn’t as razor sharp as something like Resident Evil: Extinction or The Bourne Ultimatum, but it is a pleasant, rich, detailed image with no visible compression problems. And Naomi Watts doesn’t look half bad occupying 130” of my wall.

Eastern Promises
(Universal, USA, VC-1. 15.7 GB)

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Posted: Wednesday, January 09, 2008 at 9:47 PM | Comments: 6
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology



How did you take the ending? Although I pretty much liked the film in general, the ending felt kind of weak. The happy ending sold the movie short and it felt like a shortcut.

Posted by: Peter von Frosta, January 9, 2008 11:56 PM


I didn't think it was that happy.

***mild spoilers***

Happy for the baby of course and for Naomi Watts' life, but is it that happy for Nikolai?

Posted by: Marcus, January 10, 2008 3:37 AM



No happy ending. Pretty dismal one, actually. The last shot of the film (IIRC)has Naomi Watts and her mother dressed as traditional Russian women, doing household chores and caring for the baby - a far cry from the thoroughly Western women they beleive they are at film's start. A perfect reflection of Nikolai's having his own dream of escape from the Old World sold out from under him...again a reflection of the dead girl having been ruined by false promises of of a new life in the West. None of them escape the Old World.

Posted by: Jeff, January 10, 2008 5:58 AM



Jeff, I didn't interpret the last shot of Naomi Watts as pessimistic. Dressed as traditional Russian women? Well, they were of Russian background, I don't think it's fair to have them negate their heritage. She was taking care of the baby, she probably took some time off in her job, it doesn't mean they are reduced to housewives especially since I doubt the uncle can support them.

Now Nikolai's ending is indeed downbeat, though I don't think he necessarily wanted to live happily in the West to begin with.

Posted by: Marcus, January 10, 2008 8:27 PM


Noami Watts Familiy was in exile with their uncle, it wasn't that they were entirely free..

Posted by: Peter von Frosta, January 10, 2008 10:53 PM


Maybe I overstated the case, or misplaced the emphasis...


I would agree that Anna's personal case doesn't end on such a dire note, but I can't agree it's rosy either. It's not her predicament that I find so disheartening as it is the ultimate view of the film as a whole.

Anna and her mother had identities that they chose for themselves, which they cherished. Nikolai wanted to be anything but enmeshed in the Russian mafia. The dead girl wanted to be free of the societal traps of home. Kirill is so deeply a part of his culture that he can't even "come out" (you pointed to that at DD). All of these people are forced to abandon the personal identities they wish for themselves. Admittedly, I'm reading quite a bit into Anna's fate based on a single image, but one image saves quite a lot in exposition!

There's a direct parallel drawn between the Eastern mafia and the Western police as institutions of society: both make promises to individuals that they have no intention of keeping, luring them in only to be used (in this case, unto death). Nikolai is promised aid by the police if he'll work for them, the girl promised a better life and help for her family. Both are betrayed and ultimately find themselves pushed further into the trappings they sought to escape, the very opposite of the promises made.

What I took from the film is that not only does society work against individual identity, but that even fleeing that society won't free you from it: you may embrace another world, but it won't embrace you. In EP, there's no hope of winning.

At any rate, Anna's chosen identity and that of her family is denied her. The implications are that the baby in it's day will not have better luck when it grows up.

I don't think it's a matter of how much one values cultural heritage. It's a question of the blunt force of society versus the individual's right to choose their own identity.

Posted by: Jeff, January 11, 2008 4:53 AM

Comments on this entry and all entries up to and including June 30th 2009 have been closed. The discussion continues on the new Land of Whimsy blog:


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