Eastern Promises

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

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. It received extremely positive reviews from critics, and is noted for its effective depiction of the Russian Mafia and Viggo Mortensen's performance as the mobster Nikolai Luzhin, which earned him a Best Actor nomination at the Academy Awards.

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 Mafia and the human trafficking and prostitution trade.

Tropes used in Eastern Promises include:
  • Abusive Parents: Semyon makes no big secret of his disdain for his son and also kicks and beats him.
  • Affably Evil: Semyon seems like a friendly and completely benign old restaurant owner at first. He's not.
  • The Alcoholic: Kirill and Uncle Stepan.
  • Badass: Nikolai. Notable badassery includes the bathhouse scene and joining the vory v zakone as an infiltrator. By the end of the film he's poised to replace Semyon as the boss.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Nikolai.
  • Big Bad: Semyon, the head of the family.
  • Chess Motifs: "You cannot become king while king is still in place."
    • Nikolai shares a last name, Luzhin, with a famous chessmaster in the Vladimir Nabokov novel The Defense.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Kirill won't kill the baby.
  • 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 the Reverse Mole--really just sends him to Edinburgh.
  • Fan Disservice: In classic David Cronenberg fashion, Nikolai's sex with the prostitute is intentionally made as unappealing as possible, with Kirill watching.
  • Fingore: Soyka's "processing".
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • If You're So Evil Eat This Kitten: Nikolai is implied to have done a variety of nasty things to get where he is.
  • I Have Come Too Far: Related to the above trope.
  • Infant Immortality: Played straight.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Tatiana was a virgin 14-year-old 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 mob in Western cinema.
  • Minion with an F In Evil: Kirill. Heartbreaking rather than humorous. While he does partake in some rather nasty business it's implied that this, among other things, is what makes him such a wreck. And he can't bring himself to drown the baby.
  • Mole in Charge: Nikolai.
  • Multigenerational Household: Semyon's adult children and young grandchild live with him above the restaurant.
  • Pet the Dog: In addition to Nikolai helping Anna, there's Kirill crying and apologizing to the baby, when he was supposed to kill her.
  • Rape as Drama: It pretty much sets up the whole film.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Kirill and Nikolai, respectively.
  • The Reveal: Nikolai wants to stay in the gang and become the boss. He got the star tattoos because he wanted to.
  • Reverse Mole: Nikolai. Not explicitly stated until late in the film, but there are several hints: The prostitute he had sex with being snatched by the police, the letter the detective finds on Soyka's body, and his interest in the diary.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Thicker Than Water: Played straight by Semyon in regards to Kirill. He may mistreat his useless gay son, but he protects him nevertheless. On the other hand he orders his infant daughter disposed of. Subverted by Kirill when he chooses Nikolai over Semyon.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Anna in the scene where she, all alone, goes the Russian mob HQ to broadcast the incriminating information she has on the boss, antagonizing the notoriously aggressive and unstable Kirill.
  • Wham! Line: In the end, his father came down. It was the father who raped me.
  • Why Couldn't You Be Different??: Pretty much sums up Semyon's attitude towards Kirill.