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This Year in Film: Cronenberg's 'Promises' the Best of 2007


Looking at David Cronenberg's diverse, endlessly fascinating and distinctly original body of work, I have come to the assured conclusion that Eastern Promises is the Toronto auteur's best film to date. Although Videodrome will always hold a special kooky place in my heart, the London-set crime drama is his most accomplished and sophisticated in terms of pure cinematic storytelling. And it's by far the best film that's made by a Canadian this year.

Being an American-Canadian-English co-production, Eastern Promises is also one of the most multi-national pictures of the year: its screenwriter Steven Knight is an Englishman; cinematographer Peter Suschitzky is Polish; stars Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel and Armin Mueller-Stahl are from America, Australia, France and Germany respectively. Even the film's very premise centers on Russian immigrant families settled in the shadowiest district of London, England. It's one vision channeled through and enriched by the disparate talents of many; that, my friends, represents more Canadian-ness than any other film this year.

Lead impeccably by Mortensen, who plays a driver as well as mob family confidant with an indefinable moral code, is a continuation of Cronenberg's unique take on the gangster genre that started superbly with his critically lauded A History of Violence. But Eastern Promises is not only a different film but, I believe, an even better one. It has a stronger third act and maintains its noirish tone all the way through without veering puzzlingly towards the limits of plausibility, which, admittedly, was the deterrent that marred my experience with the previous film.

In keeping faith to Cronenberg's wishes to not reveal too much of the plot (as he told Adam Nayman of Eye Weekly during an interview at TIFF in September where it won the People's Choice Award over critical faves No Country for Old Men and Juno), I won't spoil the many brilliant turns the story takes, due in part to the masterful penning of Knight's screenplay (who previously wrote the taut and gritty thriller Dirty Pretty Things). That all the intricate plotting perfectly culminates into one of the most astoundingly visceral scenes of graphic violence this year, reminds us that Cronenberg is a world-class filmmaker truly and completely capable of infusing his indelible, provocative voice into even his most commercial efforts.

(Photo: Focus Features)


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