Eastern Promises

By on May 15, 2010

The mysterious and charismatic Russian-born Nikolai Luzhin (Viggo Mortensen) is a driver for one of London’s most notorious organized crime families of Eastern European origin. The family itself is part of the Vory V Zakone criminal brotherhood. Headed by Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), whose courtly charm as the welcoming proprietor of the plush Trans-Siberian restaurant impeccably masks a cold and brutal core, the family’s fortunes are tested by Semyon’s volatile son and enforcer, Kirill (Vincent Cassel), who is more tightly bound to Nikolai than to his own father. But Nikolai’s carefully maintained existence is jarred once he crosses paths at Christmastime with Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts), a midwife at a North London hospital. Anna is deeply affected by the desperate situation of a young teenager who dies while giving birth to a baby. Anna resolves to try to trace the baby’s lineage and relatives. The girl’s personal diary also survives her; it is written in Russian, and Anna seeks answers in it. Anna’s mother Helen does not discourage her, but Anna’s irascible Russian-born uncle Stepan urges caution. He is right to do so; by delving into the diary, Anna has accidentally unleashed the full fury of the Vory. With Semyon and Kirill closing ranks and Anna pressing her inquiries, Nikolai unexpectedly finds his loyalties divided. The family tightens its grip on him: who can, or should, he trust? Several lives hang in the balance as a harrowing chain of murder, deceit, and retribution reverberates through the darkest corners of both the family and London itself.

The film, shot in England, marked the first time director David Cronenberg shot a movie entirely outside of Canada.

Naomi Watts discovered she was pregnant with her son Alexander two weeks into shooting this movie. She initially tried to hide it, but costume designer Denise Cronenberg found out about it.

To prepare for his role, Viggo Mortensen traveled alone to Moscow, St. Petersburg and the Ural Mountain region of Siberia, where he spent five days driving around without a translator. He read books on the gangs of the vory v zakone (thieves in law), Russian prison culture and the importance of prison tattoos as criminal résumés, and perfected his character’s Siberian accent and learned lines in Russian, Ukrainian and English. During filming, he used worry beads made in prison from melted-down plastic cigarette lighters and decorated his trailer with copies of Russian icons.

For the bathhouse fight scene, the scene was choreographed with the actors (not stuntmen), the actors had to train in specific fighting styles chosen for their characters and it took two days to shoot on location in London.

Gangster-Movies-eastern-promises2

Naomi Watts spent time at the Whittington Hospital for the role as a midwife.

One day after shooting, Viggo Mortensen went to a pub without washing off his tattoos or even changing out of his costume. He claims that some of the patrons became very frightened of him, assuming he was a real member of Vory v Zakone.

The scene where Semyon demonstrates his musical skills to the little girls was not dubbed. Armin Mueller-Stahl does play the violin in real life, and was a noted concert violinist in his youth.

The full name of Viggo Mortensen’s character is Nikolai Luzhin. This is a reference to Vladimir Nabokov’s novel “The Luzhin Defense”.

Nabokov is also the name of a character who is mentioned in a conversation.

The tattoos around Nickolai’s (‘Viggo Mortenson’) ankles read “Where are you going?” and “What the fuck do you care?” in Russian. Mortenson thought that they were hilarious, that ‘one foot doesn’t respect the other’.

In the original script, Nikolai revealed himself to Anna as a double agent and Tatiana’s baby Christina was sent to live with her grandmother.

Comments

comments

About Thomas DiSanto

Thomas DiSanto is an award winning author and one of the world's top bloggers.