Telling a tale of eastern promise

The best movie I've seen this year on the topics of violence and morality didn't come from David Cronenberg or Neil Jordan. It's a New Brunswick-shot B-movie called Stuck from Stuart Gordon (The Re-Animator) about a nurse (Mena Suvari) who hits a homeless man (Stephen Rea) with her car and then leaves him in her garage for days—still caught in her windshield. Atlantic Film Festival embargoes prevent me from reviewing Stuck at length, so I'll just say that it's take on survival, ethics, racial identity, and bloodlust cuts deeper than Cronenberg's Eastern Promises and Jordan's The Brave One, with only half the pretense.

Eastern Promises

The reason everybody talks about the same scene in Eastern Promises is because it's the only one that's truly memorable. It's a brawl between two nude men in a bathroom. If Cronenberg keeps up with popular movies, he knows that 50 Cent went here already in Get Rich or Die Tryin'. But the scene has its director's touch: The violence goes on long enough to be uncomfortable, and ends as one man plunges a knife through the other's eyeball. This "shocking" moment is really Cronenberg delivering his expected ick-factor.

Eastern Promises is well acted and directed, giving a legitimacy and polish to its standard themes. Naomi Watts plays Anna, a midwife who delivers the baby of a young prostitute who dies in childbirth. Searching for the baby's relatives, she's led to a Russian mob family (Armin Mueller-Stahl and Vincent Cassel) and their hired hand (Viggo Mortensen), each with secrets they want to keep hidden. Cronenberg amplifies the usual gangster movie issue of brutality as a necessary evil of family loyalty and this gives Eastern Promises its pulse.

The Brave One

"How many wrongs to make it right?" asks the tagline for The Brave One. If you really think that question mandates thought, it's possible you'll come out of The Brave One satisfied. The pairing of famed Irish director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) and star Jodie Foster promises more. For a little while, so does the movie.

Jordan sets the stage for an update of Ms .45 and Taxi Driver, giving it a context of contemporary injustice and distrust. It winds up feeling dumbed down by studio interference. Foster plays Erica Bain, a leftist NYC talk radio host whose chic style is so pronounced the film sees fit to include a scene where a teenage boy lusts after her in his police description. It's a funny bit on its own, but it's one of many times The Brave One works to blunt its impact. Erica is walking through the park one night with her South Asian boyfriend David (Naveen Andrews of Lost) when Hispanic thugs attack them. Erica falls into a coma. David is killed. A montage of doctors cutting the clothes from Erica's bruised body is cut with flashbacks to a sex scene. It only looks meaningful. Still, the race-relation dynamic that Jordan has set up holds the promise of something tough and relevant but in the end, it's just covertly racist. It's assuming its whole audience is made up of the same sociopaths who would contemplate that tagline.

I can't often get behind pro-revenge movies. I'm too Canadian. One expects a humane response from an artist of Jordan's calibre, but he doesn't allow himself the right distance in this material. The result is a movie that gives up on ethics and underestimates us all.

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