starring Viggo Moretensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl
screenplay by Steve Knight
directed by David Cronenberg
by Walter Chaw As executed by our pre-eminent insect anthropologist, David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises is more fairytale than thriller, one that finds new muse Viggo Mortensen as Nikolai, the rising star of an émigré Russian mob family taken root in the heart of London within the red velvet-lined walls of a restaurant innocuously-/romantically-named "Trans-Siberian." Self-described as "wolfish," this pack is led by grandfatherly Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who's disappointed with his ineffectual son Kirill (Vincent Cassel) and looking to replace him with a surrogate heir. The rot of that familial discord throws its roots back to ferocious opening minutes that see first a vicious throat-slashing, then a fourteen-year-old, pregnant prostitute haemorrhaging on the floor of a drugstore after she's told that, for Methadone, the pharmacist will need a prescription. Cronenberg's London is a cess seething beneath a veneer of "normalcy"; regarded as a toxic tabernacle in Spider, the city is transformed here into a garish, meticulously theatrical wonderland. The central problem of the picture has a lot to do with the idea that Cronenberg has again taken a pre-existing script and reordered it along distinctly Cronenbergian lines--that what must have read initially as a sociological text on another facet of the immigrant experience (much like screenwriter Steve Knight's Dirty Pretty Things) now plays like one of Cronenberg's investigations into the difficulty of parsing concepts like "normal" and "family" in the crushing crucible of bugs pretending to be human among humans.