To say that “Eastern Promises,” the latest from director David Cronenberg, is violent — well, that’s only half-right. There are just four truly bloody scenes in “Promises,” and only one lasts more than a matter of seconds. So for anyone expecting the nonstop mayhem of a “Scarface,” be forewarned: This is actually kind of a quiet movie.
Thing is, unflinchingly brutal moments are to Cronenberg’s film what periods are to a page in Faulkner: infrequent, unexpected, and thus wholly jarring punctuation. Throats get slashed in tight focus; fingers are lopped off at the knuckle; a fish-hook plunges into an eye. It’s the kind of violence you feel all down your spine.
The danger, then, is that such mean little scenes will overshadow the movie’s other 95 minutes. And what a shame that’d be — because it’s a brilliant bit of filmmaking. The story of a midwife (Naomi Watts) who discovers the Russian-language diary of a 14-year-old who died in childbirth, “Promises” provides Cronenberg the chance to do what he does best: reveal an underworld we might wish we never knew existed. In this case it’s the Russian Mafia operating in London, an organization in which the conflicted Nikolai (a fantastic Viggo Mortensen, all simmering fury) is trying to make his mark.
I won’t reveal any more than that. The pleasure of “Eastern Promises,” after all, is in watching as carefully guarded secrets unravel. By the end, one thing’s for certain: This film is much, much more than a mere shocker.
Rated R, 100 min. •Opens for wide release Friday
Liberation dance party
Where I went to middle school, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, we had these video dances that really should’ve been pretty great. Problem was, it was middle school, which meant the guys and girls were terrified of each other, the music videos being shown stank — and there was no booze. U Street’s DC9 fixes this by offering an open bar from 9 to 10:30 p.m., after which you’re encouraged to go groove to the videos being shown on the upstairs projector. Score!
DC9, 1940 9th St. NW. • Friday, $6