Eastern Promises

Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts in <i>Eastern Promises</i>

The life of a Russian gangster, with a heart. Forget about the story, which is a slight thing, and more than a little obvious. It’s elevated — from an auteurist perspective at least — by Cronenberg’s pedigree, although it’s perhaps the most conventional of the director’s many genre-tweaking exercises. But this expertly modulated B-movie exercise in tension and release is really the Viggo Mortensen show — he spends most of the movie with the kind of confident almost-grin on his face that suggests he’s the only one who realizes that a joke is being told. It’s not until a punishing action scene, in which Mortensen’s Nikolai fights for his life, nude, in a Russian bath house, that he delivers the punchline. Like the superior A History of Violence, Eastern Promises is a deliberately modest but sophisticated (and quite entertaining) accomplishment.