David Cronenberg's EASTERN PROMISES is the biggest surprise of the year thus far. And certainly one of the best. I will have a full write up soon, but let me just say that this is the best film that I have seen of Cronenberg's, and it's better than his previous film, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, which I thought was pretty awesome. Working with the incredible Viggo Mortensen for the second straight film, Cronenberg's uniquely cold, detached style works perfectly with the pitch-black script from writer Steven Knight, who wrote a great little thriller called DIRTY PRETTY THINGS a few years ago. Without giving anything away, EASTERN PROMISES is as engrossing a thriller that I've seen in quite some time, and has a few smart, completely unpredictable surprises. But the film's ultimate set piece, a five minute fight-to-the death with Mortensen taking on two thugs in a steam bath, is easily the most brutally punishing movie fight I have seen in quite some time. Maybe ever. Eschewing guns in favor of small knives, Cronenberg's masterful direction is truly riveting, and Mortensen, working completely nude throughout the entire fight, delivers a tour de force of physical acting, something I won't soon forget. The sequence demands multiple viewings, as does the film. EASTERN PROMISES is a genre film at heart, which will make it tough to garner Academy consideration I think. The brutal yet realistic violence will turn off some, but because each incident so neatly serves the air-tight script, nothing ever feels cheap or exploitive. EASTERN PROMISES deserves nominations in the writing, directing, and acting, category, if not a best picture nomination. Every once in a while a thriller like EASTERN PROMISES comes along and reminds you what can be done with familiar material. It's a great film, and one of my favorites of 2007.
IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, Paul Haggis's follow up to his Academy Award winning film CRASH, is a sensitive war/detective thriller that while not perfect, is a damn good film, with a tremendous performance from Tommy Lee Jones, who is also now almost guranteed an Oscar nomination. Reminding me of Hal Ashby's superior film COMING HOME, ELAH is one of the first big Hollywood movies to directly address the war in Iraq. It's not a combat film, but an intense psychological and emotional drama about the effects of the war on our young soliders, and the determination of a father to find out what has happened to his son. I will have more on both ELAH and EASTERN PROMISES tomorrow, but it's been a great weekend of movie watching. Going to go and check out THE LOOKOUT on dvd now.