Excellent film — it’s great to see David Cronenberg getting back into the swing of directing again. Between this and A History of Violence, he’s really hit his stride. Both films are subtle and restrained, allowing the audience to appreciate the sublime effect of even the most fleeting change of expression from his actors — notably Viggo Mortensen. And yet, in both — and especially in Eastern Promises — there are moments of violence in which Cronenberg reminds us of his past mastery of “body horror.” It is because these events happen surrounded by such quiet that they stand out as explosions — which is precisely what violence *should* be, even if American filmgoers, fed on a regular diet of over-the-top action violence, can’t seem to adjust to it.
There is an already much talked-about sequence in Eastern Promises — a knife fight in a Russian bath house, which Viggo Mortensen performs entirely naked. His nakedness made the impacts against the hard tiles and the ripping cuts of the razor-sharp blades terrifying to behold — there’s not even the comfort of back-of-the-mind knowledge of stunt padding under clothes, etc. Both he, and his character, are truly vulnerable.
And yet, in a sparsely-populated theater in a college town in Kansas, I was surrounded by the sounds of nervous tittering laughter from discomfort with nakedness, and the macho “duuuuuuuuuuude” posturing reactions to the violence. Sad.