West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 18 | October 3 - 9, 2007

Villager Arts & Lifestyles / Film

Koch on Film

“Eastern Promises” (+)
This film received extraordinary reviews, and because it opened in only one theater, the shows were sold out. I saw it a week later, and the theater was only 90 percent full. The reason, I believe, is that after seeing and discussing the movie, audiences concluded (as I did) that while it is interesting, it is occasionally murky and difficult to follow.

The picture, set in mostly squalid areas of London, concerns the Russian mafia. It opens with two impacting scenes. In the first one, a customer has his throat slit in a barbershop and we don’t learn why for a long time. In the second scene, a young girl about to deliver a child, hemorrhages and dies.

Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) owns an elegant Russian restaurant where the signature dish is borsht. He also happens to be a Russian organized crime Don. He is terrific in his role, similar to that of Marlon Brando as Don Corleon. Other characters include the Don’s son, Kirill (Vincent Cassel), and Anna (Naomi Watts) a hospital midwife.

The star of the movie, who gives a knockout performance as Nikolai, is Viggo Mortensen. He is tattooed over most of his body and awaits becoming what the Italian Mafia calls a Made Man. When that happens, two tattooed Russian stars are added to his body. He reminded me in appearance of Richard Widmark and his performance in “Kiss of Death” when he pushed a woman in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs. I saw that film decades ago and it still haunts me. This flick contains a steam room battle between a naked Nikolai and two hoods who want to kill him, which you won’t forget for a long time to come.

The characters are interesting and the acting is very good. Although the plot of “Eastern Promises” is not linear, nor easy to comprehend, the film is worth seeing and will provide an evening of good entertainment.

“The Brave One” (-)
This could have been a fine film, but it became a caricature of the Charles Bronson “Death Wish” movies in which he pulled the trigger on the marauders who had taken over the streets of every big city. Although the acting is excellent, “The Brave One” is over the top, and every scene is contrived, full of holes, and unbelievable. The Times reviewer, A.O. Scott, wrote “It’s a pro-lynching movie that even liberals can love.”

Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) is a radio talk show host who entices people with her insights and readings. She and her Asian-Indian fiancé are brutally mugged while walking their dog in Central Park. Erica survives but David is murdered.

While this is happening we meet Detective Sean Mercer (Terrence Howard) and Detective Vitale (Nicky Katt) who engage in humorous cop talk. One makes a statement that a perp “has a record as long as his (the cop’s) genitals,” and the other responds, “Oh, no priors.” Not bad, but not worth the price of admission.

After David’s death, Erica becomes a vigilante. She purchases a gun and in no time at all becomes an expert shooter leaving dead bodies everywhere. The recently divorced Detective Mercer, who investigated Erica’s mugging, is now involved in a case in which she was the shooter. So begins a second interracial romance.

The movie is well done in terms of acting, direction and locale. It held my interest, but when it ended, I concluded it was a waste of their talent and my time. There is nothing wrong with using a prior script, but rather than creating a better film, this picture is a failure.

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