Whilst more straight-forward and less involving than his brilliant 2005 effort “A History of Violence”, ‘Promises’ yet again shows how good the wonderfully eccentric David Cronenberg can get when he drops his sci-fi tinged flights of fancy and channels that imagination into more grounded and gritty dramatic storytelling.
It’s film that takes its time with its characters, leaves many things open to interpretation, and yet hits home at key moments with brutal violence and clever twists. Despite being mostly set around Naomi Watts’ family apartment and a restaurant, the story explores a wide and ambitious scope encompassing the trafficking and murder committed by Russian organized crime families in London.
Viggo Mortensen delivers a masterfully restrained performance as Nikolai, the ex-con driver for a powerful crime family dripping in Shakespearean overtones – including a father figure who obviously prefers him over his own unstable son (Vincent Cassell). Watts delivers a strong supporting performance whose investigations into the baby of a dead sex slave serves as the story’s catalyst.
Steve Knight’s superb screenplay is filled with well-timed scant moments of dark humor, engaging mobster family dynamics, and brutal action including the unforgettable sauna fight sequence where a totally nude Viggo engages in a bloody savage ballet without any restraint.
The film shoots its London locale in beautiful and compelling visuals, but the pacing admittedly is relaxed enough that many may find it too slow or ultimately inconsequential to get into. A shame considering how smart and developed a mob drama this is, and Viggo gives one of the year’s most committed performances.