20 September 2007

Review: Eastern Promises


Genre: Drama

About to discuss Mr. Cronenberg's latest piece while considering the nearly adamantine fealty and respect Mr. Mortensen shows for him, I suddenly feel as though the appropriate verb were less "discuss" than "tackle." And, indeed, it is a rather heavy, barnacled, and formidable piece to be done so. An attempted exploration of the inherent intentions of man that works to strip away all vital contentions that may otherwise cloud the matter, the film is both acid and barren, cold and fierce, bare and serious. They are these qualities that give the film its appreciable quality, its strength and ability to probe and question as art, as film does and ought do. However, I must signal the shortcomings of the film as such an exploration, for that, while its intentions may be clear and sharp, its delivery staggers behind.
The most significant indication of this lagging is the unembellished, bone-white structure of the screenplay. To me, it was an extremely polished and hewed piece but one that in being so pared and processed found itself only a safe imposing sterility that fails to permeate, or try serious punches at, the point of its creation (i. e., its primary question). Indeed, it had virtues in its duplicate pairings, correspondingly matched, (e. g., birth and death, decisions of youth, the metaphysical tension of being a policeman or a doctor, the old school and the new), but the couplings so finely adjoined, so cleanly juxtaposed, in my opinion cannot be nearly as incisive or dynamic in effect as they might have been in a more crumpled, provocative (but I'm wary of that term "provocative") cooperation. I wanted to feel the flushed heartbeat of the birth scene or the undercutting pain of the bathhouse fight, and I did not. I wanted to know the rawness and the expositive power of the contradictions, a feat I found Mr. Cronenberg handled better in his penultimate A History of Violence (despite the film's opposite difficulties with balance). It was simply too neat, too straightforward, too metronomic.
A large contributing reason for the lagging I found to be the extremely sparse utilization of Mr. Howard's score, which, though unextraordinary, is still music, "to the condition of [which] all art aspires" (Pater). During the fight scene especially, I found myself appreciating the foregoing of theatrics, but missing the responsive, attending, transcendent cues of an active score. The entire scene for me was just not resonant, and my fellow theatergoers, though probably unconsciously, felt the hole too, as they at the fight's grim conclusion issued nervous laughter for their unguided emotions.
Finally, I must comment on the cinematography, which I found to be spotty. The palette was nice, but the framing was often awkward for me. Splicing off legs and arms, wobbling between activity and passivity, and precariously trying to manage the power dynamics of it all detracted from my experience of the film.
Other than those three areas where I felt there could have been improvement, I thought the film was good. Mr. Mortensen and Ms. Watts were completely satisfactory in their roles, for whose impermeability I cannot decry their efforts; and the editing was, in keeping with the screenplay, trim and inexiguous.
It was not great work, but it worked still and I look forward to Mr. Cronenberg's next piece.

Grade: B

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