In 2005, critics and fans were outraged when A History of Violence star Viggo Mortensen was overlooked during Oscar season. But Mortensen and director David Cronenberg re-teamed for this year’s Eastern Promises (available 12/26), an elegant and even superior thriller that picks up the main theme from Violence: the exploration of man’s mysterious, complicated, and often animal nature.
The movie is set in the shadows of London side streets, and Mortensen plays Nikolai, a Russian-born driver rising through the ranks of a Russian organized-crime family. There are all sorts of twists and turns (and, not surprisingly, lots of bloodshed), but the film remains streamlined and focused in its intensity. The performances — Naomi Watts is the midwife unwittingly entangled with the baddies, Vincent Cassel the reckless son of the boss — are all excellent, but it’s Mortensen’s movie. His character is complex — as ruthless as he is inscrutable — and utterly impossible to look away from.
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