As a director who takes a genre and makes it his own, the crime drama gets the David Cronenberg treatment in Eastern Promises.
A few days before Christmas, a planned hit at a London barbershop occurs the same night Anna (Naomi Watts), a midwife, treats a pregnant teen in distress. Unable to save the girl, the emergency weighs on her. Anna finds a diary in the dead teen’s belongings revealing that she’s Russian, her name is Tatiana, and finding a business card to a restaurant, Anna visits to see if she can discover the girl’s identity. She meets Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a seemingly benevolent restaurant owner who feigns concern about the girl and wants the diary. Anna agrees to meet him but feels uneasy. She doesn’t know that Semyon is the head of a Russian crime ring called the “Vory V Zakone,” where one of their activities is trafficking women. His son Kirill (Vincent Cassel) is a thoughtless brute, and their driver Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) is caught in the middle of this crime family. Nikolai is far from condoning the family’s activities but dedicated to his duties. Tatiana’s diary becomes the key to exposing a sex trafficking ring and the dangers that await Anna and the orphaned baby.
Written by Steven Wright, Eastern Promises is a heartbreaking look at the horrors of human trafficking and the dangers of deep-seated crime operating under the guise of family obligations and honour within the Russian Mafia. Great performances from Mortensen, Cassel and Watts and a brilliant narration from Tatiana Maslany assign humanity to this often-evasive crime.