Friday, February 26, 2021

EASTERN PROMISES (2007) (Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray Review)


Label: Umbrella Entertainment
Region Code: B
Rating: R
Duration: 100 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 Surround with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: David Cronenberg 
Cast: Andrzej Borkowski, Naomi Watts, Sinéad Cusack, Boris Isarov, Viggo Mortensen, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Vincent Cassel

David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (2007) is a gritty crime thriller set in modern day London where a midwife named Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts, Down) seeks to find the family of an orphaned baby whose heroin addicted, teen-prostitute mother, Tatiana (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse, Mother!) died during a difficult childbirth. The only clue to the mother's identity and the child's surviving family is a diary written in Russian that was found among her belongings, inside it there was also a business card for the Russian restaurant Trans-Siberian . 

Looking for answers Anna ends up at the restaurant seeking answers where she speaks to the owner, a charming older Russian man named Seymon (Armin Mueller-Stahl, Night on Earth), who says he has no knowledge of the mother's identity, but he does takes an interest in helping her translate the text of the diary into English. There is obviously more to his offer to help than altruism and performing a kindness for a strangers though, and it turns out that he is a powerful Russian mob boss with ties to the teen prostitute mother. The elderly restaurateur is quite charming and easily disarms the midwife, but the more he takes an interest in the diary the scarier he seems.

Also factoring heavily into the proceedings are Seymon's  screw-up, scumbag son Kirill (Vincent Cassel, Black Swan) and his friend, a low-level driver, Nikolai Luzhin (Viggo Mortensen, The Reflecting Skin). Kirill is a slimy piece of shit who embarrasses his father often, while Nikolai is a bit of an enigma. He's a menacing presence, a killer who can cut-up a corpse and dump it into the river minus fingers and teeth without batting an eye, but also someone willing to do the right thing, and perform a kindness for a prostitute when it suits him. His body is covered from the neck down with dozens of prison tattoos of varying significance, which plays into the story that we are told, each one holding significance in the underworld.

I thought Watts was fantastic as the midwife born to Russian immigrants, the loss of her own child during pregnancy feeding into her continued perseverance in finding the child's biological family, but what she's digging into crosses over into a teen-prostitutions ring run by the Russian mob, which puts her in danger, and for some reason Nikolai has taken an interest in her, but to what end? 

The film opens with a fantastic throat slashing inside a barbershop with a straight-razor, then into the birthing of the orphan baby. The violence seen throughout is of an up-close and personal nature, whether it be hand-to-hand or with carpet knives and straight-razors, it's all potent stuff. The highlight for me is Mortensen's infamous nude bathhouse battle with a pair of Chechen thugs who come at him, it's a kinetic, fierce and visceral bit of hand-to-hand that always leaves me breathless. 

Audio/Video: Eastern Promises (2007) arrives on Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment in 1080p HD framed in 1.85:1 widescreen. There's no verbage about this being a new scan so it is likely the same scan used by Universal for their 2008 U.S. release. Dated though the transfer may be it still captures the fantastic lensing from cinematographer Peter Suschitzky (Dead Ringers), the colors are robust, blacks are deep and inky and there's plenty of fine detail throughout. Close-ups offer pleasing amounts of fine detail of faces, wood paneling and clothing textures. A new 4K scan would have been a knock-out sell point for me, but what we get here is a solid HD presentation. 

Audio comes  by way of both English DTS-HD MA 2.0 and 5.1 with optional English subtitles. The surround is mostly front-centric but during the action sequences like a post-soccer match assassination and the brutal bathhouse battle things do get spread to the surrounds.  The score from Howard Shore (Dead Ringers) is terrific and it has a nice depth to it in the uncompressed mix, everything is well-balanced and pronounced, 

Umbrella also carry-over all the extras from the 2008 Universal U.S. release, by way of four featurettes adding up tot about twenty-one minutes worth of interview and behind-the-scenes footage with the principle cast and crew. The extras examine the Russian mafia, Mortensen's preparation for the role, the bathhouse fight sequence, and Watt's learning to ride a motorcycle for her role. The single-disc release arrives in an oversized keepcase with a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring two separate original movie poster designs, the b-side having the benefit of not featuring the ratings logo box, the Blu-ray disc features an excerpt of the b-side artwork on it. .  

Special Features:  
- "Secrets and Stories" featurette (11 min) 
- "Marked for Life" featurette (7 min) 
- "Two Guys Walk into a Bathhouse" featurette (2 min) 
- "Watts on Wheels" featurette (1 min) 

Eastern Promises (2007) is a tense and visceral crime-thriller with solid performances from the entire cast, it's a dark, gritty and enthralling watch that holds up to repeated viewings. It came just two years after Cronenberg's A History of Violence (2005), and the pair make excellent companion pieces, both starring Mortensen, and both crime-thrillers from a director clearly at the top of his game. Umbrella's Blu-ray offers a solid A/V presentation and some cool archival extras. 

Screenshots from the Umbrella Ent. Blu-ray