Many films now considered modern classics premiered in 2007: There Will Be Blood, Juno, No Country For Old Men, and Zodiac chief among them. Another I frequently see mentioned is Canadian director David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises.
In 2007 I was 14, so many of these modern classics didn’t resonate with me in what I now assume is the intended way. Having returned to film in my early twenties, I’m stunned by them, except for Eastern Promises.
Naomi Watts plays a curious London nurse who ends up delivering the baby of a dying, underage, Russian girl. Watts’ curiosities lead her to take a dairy found on the Russian girl’s body and to find a translator. She goes to a distant acquaintance (who we quickly learn is the head of the major Russian mob family in London) where she also meets Viggo Mortensen’s character, the family’s undertaker and driver.
The diary finds itself in the hands of many, including Mortensen’s and the mob boss’s son, an immature and volatile drunk. Over time, Watts learns the Russian girl’s baby – for whom she has been caring since the girl passed – belongs to the mob boss himself due to an assault that occurs before the movie begins.
As Watts plays detective, she gets herself and her family further involved, to the point that only Mortensen, who takes a shine to her the moment he sees her (when he presumes she’s a prostitute), can wield his quiet, persuasive power to keep them safe.
I won’t comment on the plot twist, which nearly saves the film from its amalgamation of Hollywood Russian clichés and forced romance, but it does elevate Mortensen’s role to a level that rightly earned him an Oscar nomination.
Eastern Promises doesn’t contend with There Will Be Blood, Juno, No Country For Old Men, Zodiac, or any of the other modern classics because it doesn’t care deeply enough about developing its characters so fully they become people; it’s too concerned with using them as a platform upon which to erect an intricate plot.