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Film / Eastern Promises

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Anna: So you've read the diary. How can you keep doing what you're doing?
Nikolai: I'm just the driver.

Eastern Promises is a 2007 crime drama by David Cronenberg.

The story revolves around Anna (Naomi Watts), a midwife at a London hospital, who discovers a diary belonging to a teenage girl who died during childbirth. Her efforts to translate the diary and thus find a family for the girl's baby end up embroiling her with a powerful figure in the Russian mob and the human trafficking and prostitution trade.


This film contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Semyon makes no big secret of his disdain for his son and also kicks and beats him.
  • The Alcoholic: Kirill and Uncle Stepan love their booze, and it leads to Kirill being a reckless hothead and Stepan saying openly racist and highly inappropriate things at the dinner table.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Unclear what exactly Ekrem suffers from but it appears some form of autism.
  • Ambiguously Gay: While the movie produces more Ho Yay that you could shake a stick at, Kirill is never explicitly shown to be gay. A mobster lets loose a rumour that he might be gay, but right before that we get a scene of him in his father's brothel and he seems to be enjoying himself by all accounts. But then just before he freaks out and demands Nikolai sleep with a prostitute to prove that he's not gay...while Kirill watches. Can we say 'projection?' The diary also reveals that Kirill couldn't perform while trying to rape Tatiana and had to pass her off to his father, all but confirming that he is indeed closeted.
    • Word of God officially confirms Kirill is deeply in the closet and in love with Nikolai.
  • Armored Closet Gay: Kirill
  • As You Know: There are a couple of times when things in The Mafiya's world are explained to either Nikolai or Anna. There's also the time when the senior officer spells out in great detail to any audience members who haven't got it yet that Nikolai is undercover, but since he does it in a tone that suggests he's quoting his own officially-worded orders, he gets away with it.
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  • Audience Surrogate: Anna, an ordinary midwife, gives us a smooth introduction to the criminal underworld as she stumbles upon the Russian mob.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Nikolai is almost always looking sharp in a suit, and he is not someone you want to mess with.
  • Bathhouse Blitz: Nikolai is tricked into taking Kirill's place in a meeting at the local sauna with the Chechens following Kirill's unsanctioned murder of the Chechens' brother Soyka. Nikolai arrives, undresses, and waits in the sauna room as expected. The Chechens show up seeking vengeance and attack Nikolai with knives, forcing him into a brutal fight to death.
  • Big Bad: Semyon, the head of the family.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The tattoos around Nikolai's ankles read "Where are you going?" and "What the fuck do you care?" in Russian. Viggo Mortensen thought that they were hilarious, that 'one foot doesn't respect the other.'
  • Blatant Lies: Kirill's assertions that it was his idea for Nikolai to be invited to become a full member of the family are really unconvincing.
  • Bookends: Anna's first night of involvement with the Russian mob ends with Nikolai driving her in his car while she gives directions to her house, and her last night has her driving him on her motorbike following his instructions to the body-dumping zone.
  • Brutal Brawl: A notorious scene where Nikolai is cornered in a Turkish bath by two assailants and engages them in an epic Full-Frontal Assault: fists vs. hooked linoleum knives.
  • Camping a Crapper: A variation. The Chechens slash Ekrem's throat when he goes for a leak at the cemetery.
  • The Cast Show Off: Armin Mueller-Stahl started playing violin when he was a teenager, and he does it for real when Semyon shows his granddaughters how it's done.
  • Chess Motifs: "You cannot become king while king is still in place," and Nikolai shares a last name, Luzhin, with a famous chessmaster in the Vladimir Nabokov novel The Defense.
  • Child by Rape: Christine
  • Creepy Blue Eyes / Icy Blue Eyes: Semyon's most distinctive feature, which perfectly match his personality.
  • Death by Childbirth: Tatiana
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: Stepan at one point spits in Nikolai's face. He's trying to protect Anna at the time, but given that his reaction to Tatiana's diary proves he is familiar with the vory v zakone, it is a remarkably stupid thing to do.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything??: Played rather disturbingly in the bathhouse scene.
  • Disposable Sex Worker:
    • Tatiana, whose death kicks off the story.
    • The brothel frequented by the gangsters seems like most of the prostitutes who work there will end up like this sooner or later.
    • Averted with Kirilenko, the Ukranian prostitute that Nikolai is forced to have sex with in front of Kirill. She looks to be the most depressed prostitute there (and this is arguably why Nikolai picked her) and, after Nikolai asks for her name and village and hopes that she can "Stay alive a little longer," she's later rescued from the brothel by the police, seemingly at Nikolai's request.
  • Enigmatic Minion: Nikolai is very difficult to read, and the camera spends a lot of time focused on his face after or during various events, as if inviting the audience to try and decipher what he's thinking.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Both Semyon and Kirill are genuinely affectionate towards the younger children of the family, and Semyon (for all the abuse he gives him,) loves Kirill enough to set up the vastly more competent Nikolai to be killed in his stead.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Kirill can't kill Tatiana's baby, who is, to be fair, his half-sister. He also couldn't bring himself to rape Tatiana months before, leading Semyon to do it instead, but that's not because he has's because he's gay.
  • Evil Old Folks: Semyon isn't quite the sweet, charming restaurant owner he seems, to say the very least.
  • Eye Scream: Nikolai stabs one of his attackers in the eye, thus ending the fight.
  • Faking the Dead: Semyon orders Nikolai to take care of Stepan. When Nikolai follows him home and Stepan goes missing, everyone starts assuming Nikolai killed him. Nikolai — being a mole — really just told him to go to Edinburgh until things blow over.
  • Fan Disservice: In classic David Cronenberg fashion, Nikolai's sex with the prostitute is intentionally made as unappealing as possible, with Kirill watching.
    • Not to mention that Nikolai's much-discussed nude scene happens during a brutal two-on-one knife fight.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Semyon seems like a friendly and completely benign old restaurant owner at first. He's not.
  • Fingore: The "processing" of Soyka's corpse involves chopping off his fingertips.
  • Football Hooligans: Averted. At one point Ekrem is surrounded by supporters of an opposing football club while he loudly chants his support for Arsenal, but all they do is call him a "wanker" in good-nature. The two Chechens who've blended into the crowd, however...
  • Foreshadowing: Nikolai is awfully quick to correct Semyon on what the post-USSR equivalent of the KGB is called.
  • Freudian Excuse: Kirill kicks a few dogs, but it becomes all too clear why he's so screwed up.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Near the end, Nikolai is attacked by two knife-wielding mobsters in a bathhouse, and while Nikolai starts the scene in a robe, he loses it almost immediately. He's badly hurt in the battle, but you should see the other two guys.
  • Gayngster: Kirill is pretty obviously a closeted gay.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Anna's racist uncle Stepan, with a heavy dose of Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Kirill insists on watching Nikolai have sex with one of the prostitutes at the brothel to ensure that Nikolai's not gay...
  • He Knows Too Much: When Semyon finds out that Stepan has read the diary, he orders Nikolai to kill him. Luckily, Nikolai's really an undercover FSB agent and makes Stepan a five-star hotel in Edinburgh where he'll be safe until everything blows over.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Nikolai seems to be one. It turns out he's actually undercover, and it's unclear whether he has ever actually killed anyone outside the knife fight.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Semyon. He knows the Chechens want his captain (Kirill) dead because Kirill ordered the death of one of their associates. However, he can't just let Kirill die, and he promotes Nikolai to captain so the Chechens will go after him instead; either they'll succeed in killing Nikolai (thus balancing the scales) or Nikolai will kill them (leaving that particular group with no witnesses to what happened). Nikolai does indeed survive and by the end of the movie has moved up to number two in the hierarchy instead of just being an enforcer, which puts him in a much better position to help the FSB and Scotland Yard take the organization down.
  • Hospital Hottie: Anna. She's nowhere near as in-your-face as many of the examples listed, but she is still played by Naomi Watts.
  • Human Traffickers: The vory v zakone syndicate has been importing Russian girls into the West to be forced into prostitution. The plot is kicked off when a pregnant 14-year old girl runs away and dies in childbirth after she was raped by the chapter's boss.
  • Icy Gray Eyes: Gray-eyed Nikolai is a textbook case of the "cold, strong-willed, and unapproachable" variety. The discovery that he's undercover and has probably done a lot more If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten! acts than we see on-screen also fits the "ideas above people" mentality aspect of the trope.
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten!: Nikolai is implied to have done a variety of nasty things to get where he is. Once it's revealed he's a mole all of his actions in the film such as disposing of a body and sleeping with a Sex Slave are suddenly shown to have been in this trope all along.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Played straight; the baby lives.
  • Insistent Terminology: Downplayed, but when someone complains about the KGB, Nikolai automatically corrects him with "FSB...they're the FSB now." Which, in hindsight, is an early hint that he's undercover, and a potentially Revealing Mistake that—fortunately for him—is taken in stride by his companions.
  • In Vino Veritas: The likely reason that Nikolai only drinks when it would look strange if he didn't, and sparingly at that, is because letting this trope come into play would likely get him killed.
  • Ironic Echo: When Semyon sends Kirill to kill Tatiana's baby, Kirill can't bring himself to do it, sobbing "She's just a little girl, papa!" This is ironic given that Semyon isn't around at the time and Kirill tried to rape Tatiana but only couldn't perform because he's gay, otherwise he would've committed an atrocity of his own against a young woman.
  • I've Come Too Far: Nikolai's attitude towards what he's done to get where he is now, though it's revealed that he's actually a good guy who's sacrificed too much to quit now, as opposed to a villain who can't go back.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Uncle Stepan isn't really the friendliest guy, but he clearly cares about his family and wants to keep them out of trouble. Also, though he tried to let Tatiana's secrets be buried with her, he is outraged at the prospect of doing any sort of deal with Semyon. When Anna's mother says they should do the deal and move on because they are "ordinary people," Stepan replies by saying that Tatiana too was an ordinary person.
  • Knife Fight: One of the most brutally realistic in the history of film.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Tatiana was a 14-year-old virgin getting raped by an old man - presumably just once - and they even gave her morning-after pills. Still, she gives birth to a baby and dies.
  • The Mafiya: This is one of the few good looks at the Russian Bratva in Western cinema, and in an amusing instance, Mortenson's outfit and cosmetic aids were so authentic that while filming, one day at lunch he realized he'd unintentionally freaked out a Russian immigrant couple who took him for a real gangster. He had to introduce himself and explain the film to set them at ease. This was helped by Russian being one European language that Mortenson can't speak.
  • The Man Behind the Man: By the end of the film, Semyon's jailing will mean Kirill is technically in charge, but it's obvious to everyone (possibly even Kirill) that Nikolai will be calling the shots.
  • The Mob Boss Is Scarier: Ekrem's uncle tells the Chechens that he was ordered to kill their associate by Semyon's captain. He then immediately goes to Semyon and informs him what the Chechens are up to, unhesitatingly admitting that he's more afraid of Semyon than them.
  • The Mole: Nikolai. Not explicitly stated until late in the film, but there are several hints: the somewhat irreverent attitude towards Semyon that he shows around Kirill, the letter the detective finds on Soyka's body, the prostitute Nikolai had sex with being snatched by the police, his tendency to ask questions that he gets rebuked for, and his interest in the diary.
  • Mole in Charge: Nikolai
  • Mood-Swinger: Kirill, as could be expected from an Armored Closet Gay with an abusive father and a drinking problem.
  • Multi Generational Household: Semyon's adult children and young grandchild live with him above the restaurant.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Naomi Watts's accent slips a few times, but largely averted with the other characters.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: Semyon's cover as the benevolent restauranteur is going strong until Anna innocently mentions the diary. He instinctively falls into a more commanding and intimidating tone, and his subsequent attempts to recover his persona don't dispel the suspicions Anna gets from that momentary lapse.
  • Pet the Dog: In addition to Nikolai helping Anna, there's Kirill crying and apologizing to the baby when he's supposed to kill her.
  • Police Are Useless: They don't play a major part in the film, but while the officer played by Donald Sumpter seems competent, they do make a horrendous mistake (see Too Dumb to Live). It's questionable whether the undercover Nikolai counts as "police" or not, but if he does, he sure as hell isn't useless.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Mafiya treats the possibility of Kirill being gay as disastrous, and when the police give Semyon a blood test, his first thought is that they tried to poison him by using the same needle as they used on "junkies and whores and blacks and queers. Now I probably have the fucking queer disease," he says while pouring vodka over the injection site.
  • Racist Grandma: Or Uncle, as the case may be. Anna's mother also lets her own racism slip out, though more subtly than Stepan. While Stepan is proclaiming that Anna's ex-boyfriend left because black men always run away, Anna's mother defends him by saying "He was a doctor, Stepan" before Anna angrily stops her from going any further.
    • Stepan even accuses the cause of Anna's miscarriage to being that she and her ex-boyfriend were not the same race.
  • Rape as Drama: It pretty much sets up the whole film.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Semyon initially appears to be this. He's anything but.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Kirill and Nikolai, respectively.
  • Red Herring: At first it appears that Kirill is the antagonist of the film, the rapist of Tatiana, and a generally dangerous wild card who causes problems for protagonist Nikolai and Reasonable Authority Figure Semyon. This reverses entirely when we learn that Semyon was the actual rapist, and Nikolai is actually an undercover cop trying to bring Semyon down. At this point Semyon emerges as the real villain, and Kirill's unreliability actually becomes an asset to the protagonists.
  • The Reveal: Nikolai is an undercover government agent who wants to stay in the gang and become the boss so he can take them down once and for all.
  • Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: The Chechen brothers take this role. Azim says they only recently arrived from the mountains, and calls them animals. However, there is little to suggest they are actually worse than Semyon's established London Mafiya, since we only see them kill in revenge for the murder of their brother (during which they are not massively sadistic or gratuitous), and they spare one of the murderers in exchange for the one who gave the order.
  • Slashed Throat: A particularly graphic example about two-minutes into the film, in which the assailant uses a razor to saw through the victim's neck. There is a somewhat cleaner example later, used against the aforementioned assailant, with the cut being delivered by someone experienced enough to make much less of a mess.
  • Tattooed Crook: Operates as a Chekhov's Gun for Nikolai. It says something that while taking a break from filming by kicking back at a bar, Viggo Mortensen accidentally scared several Russian immigrants into thinking he really was a member of the vory v zakone.
  • Three-Month-Old Newborn: Averted. We see the baby immediately after she's been removed from her dying mother, and she can hardly be called "cute" as she's motionless, skinny, and her skin's virtually grey and covered in slime and blood. We also see the umbilical cord, (which looks like a crumpled plastic tube with stains of brown gunk,) being sealed off and tied.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Anna in the scene where she goes all alone to the Russian mob HQ to broadcast the incriminating information she has on the boss, antagonizing the notoriously aggressive and unstable Kirill. Is it any shocker that he ends up attacking her?
    • Earlier on (before she knows the full truth) she lets Nikolai drive her home. Getting into a car alone with a strange man is pretty stupid at the best of times, but this is after her suspicions have been raised enough for her to evade Semyon's questions about where she lives, only to then give the information to someone she knows to be Semyon's employee and whose intimidating demeanour makes her wary from the first moment she sees him.
    • The police are also bloody idiots for openly taking the blood of an experienced criminal like Semyon and not thinking that he might work out what they were hoping to do and strike against the baby first.
    • Semyon's plan to give Nikolai the star tattoos so the Chechens will kill him in thinking he's Kirill is cunning in the short-term, but there's little long-term hope of them not realizing that their actual target is still alive, with his main bodyguard now dead. As for what actually happens, Nikolai survives the fight, leaving Semyon with a proven badass wanting his head (or he would if he weren't an undercover cop,) and Kirill's fury with Semyon for setting Nikolai up being a major factor in his decision to let Semyon go to jail.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Between Anna and Nikolai. They do kiss goodbye in the end, but that's all.
  • The Villain Knows Where You Live: Semyon tells Anna as much when he pays her a surprise visit in the hospital to ask her for the diary. Anna actually tried to avert this earlier on. Before she knew he was Mafiya but after alarm bells had gone off during his Out-of-Character Alert moment above, Anna is evasive when Semyon asks where she lives or offers to drive her home. Unfortunately negated when her bike breaks down while it's pouring with rain, and Anna lets Nikolai drive her home.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Semyon owns a popular restaurant, and his patrons happily dine there and don't suspect a thing.
  • Wham Line: "In the end, his father came down. It was the father who raped me." Depending on exactly when it clicks that Nikolai is an undercover FSB operative, any part of his conversation with the senior officer will count.
  • Why Couldn't You Be Different?: Pretty much sums up Semyon's attitude towards Kirill.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Semyon would, Kirill won't, or at least spends so much time agonizing over it that he ends up not having to go through with it. Even though Kirill was willing to hurt the 14-year old Tatiana, the fact that he was incapable of actually raping her despite trying to could be interpreted as some vestige of this, or it could simply be that his probable homosexuality or constant drunkenness was the problem, and he didn't actually consider a 14 year old to still be a child.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Nikolai's statement, "We don't kill babies. This would be bad for us. Your father has gone too far," is not denied, suggesting that even most Mafiya would balk at killing a baby.
  • Your Mom: While inducting Nikolai into the "family" of the Mafiya, the assembled bosses make various insulting remarks about Nikolai's birth parents to check his reaction and make him disown them in favour of his new family.