• Eastern Promises (Umbrella Entertainment) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released on: January 6th, 2021.
    Director: David Cronenberg
    Cast: Andrzej Borkowski, Naomi Watts, Sinéad Cusack, Boris Isarov, Viggo Mortensen, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Vincent Cassel
    Year: 2007
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    Eastern Promises – Movie Review:

    When David Cronenberg’s 2007 film Eastern Promises begins, a fourteen year old Russian girl wanders the streets of London only to collapse on the floor of a pharmacy, blood seeping from between her legs. She’s rushed to the hospital and her baby is born, but the young mother dies during childbirth. The midwife who delivered the baby, Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts), finds the mother’s diary in her handbag and takes it home hoping that if she has it translated into English it will provide some clues as to the girl’s family so that the baby can be returned to them. She takes the diary home to her drunken uncle, Stepan (Jerzy Skolimowksi), but he initially refuses her help.

    The next day, Anna calls upon a man named Seymon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), the owner of a prestigious Russian restaurant named the Trans-Siberian. Seymon was a friend of Anna’s late father and she figures he might help her out. To top things off, Anna found one of the restaurant’s cards tucked inside the dead woman’s diary, so she knows there is a connection here of sorts. Seymon seems nice enough initially and Anna supplies him with a photocopy of the diary. When Seymon finds out that Anna’s uncle opted to translate the book for her after all, however, Seymon’s demeanor changes almost instantly. While all of this is going on, Anna keeps running into a driver named Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) who works for Seymon’s son, a thug named Kirill (Vincent Cassel).

    As the plot evolves, these different threads evolve and intertwine, leading to an inevitably violent conclusion.

    From the opening scene in which a low level Russian mobster is murdered in a barbershop, to the tense finale in which loyalties become very divided, Eastern Promises is pretty gripping stuff. Cronenberg, working off of a tight script from author Steven Knight, ensures that we get enough character development that we can understand the various players’ key motivations, but not at the expense of tension or suspense and the story plays out at a pretty much perfect pace. There’s a lot of depth here, and Cronenberg does a great job of exploiting it and exploring it.

    Peter Suschitsky’s cinematography adds plenty of atmosphere by capturing London as a drab, seedy place and by avoiding much of the pomp and circumstance that parts of the city are famous for. The film has a very dark, noir-ish look to it that works very well in the context of the story being told. Visuals are strong across the board here, the movie looks great. A couple of surprisingly violent moments push things to the darker side and not only provide shock value but also supply an intensity that helps hammer home the dire circumstances surrounding the last half hour of the picture.

    Mortensen and Watts shine in the lead roles with Vincent Cassel turning in yet another excellent performance alongside an equally impressive turn from Armin Mueller-Stahl. All four of the principal players in this picture show some interesting range and infuse their respective characters with just the right amount of humanity.

    Eastern Promises – Blu-ray Review:

    Eastern Promises arrives on Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment framed at 1.85.1 in an AVC encoded transfer that takes up 31GBs of space on the 50GB disc. Very likely taken from the same master that past editions have been taken from, the picture quality here doesn’t yield the same sort of results that you’d get from a new 4k scan, or even a new 2k scan, but it definitely bests past DVD editions and is a more than watchable high definition offering. Detail is solid if never reference quality and colors are reproduced nicely. There are no compression artifacts to complain about nor are there any problems with print damage, debris or noise reduction.

    The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is really strong. Surround use is subtle but it’s definitely there and you’ll certainly notice it in some of the more active scenes such as the bathhouse brawl. The film relies more on dialogue than action set pieces so most of the audio comes from the front of the mix but, accents aside, there’s plenty of clarity and nice detail in the mix. Bass response is tight and strong without ever overpowering anything and the levels are well balanced. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. An optional DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track is also provided.

    The supplements on this release, which more or less mirror those found on the HD-DVD that came years ago and which were then ported over to the US Blu-ray release, are a bit disappointing. The best of the bunch is Secrets And Stories, a ten-minute featurette that mixes up some on set and behind the scenes footage with interviews featuring Cronenberg, Knight, and some of the cast members who talk about the influence of the Russian Mafia in London. Marked For Life is a quick six-minute documentary on the significance of the tattoos that are used in the movie and how the tie in with the Russian mafia tradition, while Two Guys Walk Into A Bath is a two-minute talk where Cronenberg talks about what he wanted to accomplish with the film’s stand out action set piece. Watts On Wheels is a quick, one-minute look at Naomi Watts’ experience on the motorcycle she rides in the film. Animated menus, chapter selection and a bookmarking option are also included. The supplements here aren’t bad, but they’re very brief and the film is good enough that a commentary or more in-depth ‘making of’ featurette would have been a very addition welcome.

    Eastern Promises - The Final Word:

    Eastern Promises is a gritty, character driven mafia film told with a good eye for detail and which features some excellent performances. Umbrella Entertainment’s Blu-ray release would have benefited from a new scan but still looks pretty decent. It doesn’t add anything new in terms of supplements but it does carry over everything from past editions. All in all, a decent release for an excellent film.

    Click on the images below for full sized Eastern Promises Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I just watched this one and History Of Violence recently. Both amazing films.