Release Date(s)2007 (March 22, 2022)
Studio(s)Focus Features/Universal Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C
After the success of A History of Violence, more or less bringing David Cronenberg back into the fold critically and commercially, he turned his attention to a screenplay by Stephen Knight (Dirty Pretty Things), Eastern Promises. He re-teamed with Viggo Mortensen, as well as his longtime collaborators director of photography Peter Suschitzky, editor Ronald Sanders, and composer Howard Shore, for a story about the Russian Mafia set in London and what happens when an outsider gets involved with them. A sister film of sorts to its predecessor, focusing on the effects of violence and the criminal underworld on ordinary people, it was very well received by critics but didn’t do that well financially.
A young pregnant woman dies during child birth, leaving a hospital midwife, Anna (Naomi Watts), to look after the baby. Trying to determine the family of the young woman who left behind a diary written entirely in Russian, Anna unsuccessfully turns to whom turns out to be the leader of the London-based Russian mafia, Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl). Meanwhile, one of the mafia’s drivers, Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), and his partner and son of Semyon, Kirill (Vincent Cassel), are following up on an unauthorized hit. Nikolai, whom Semyon doesn’t fully trust, takes an interest in Anna and her plight. He is eventually put in an uncompromising and deadly position when the truth about his identity and role within the organization comes into question.
Eastern Promises was shot by director of photography Peter Suschitzky using Arricam LT and ST cameras with Zeiss Master Prime lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Kino Lorber Studio Classics brings the film to Ultra HD for the first time utilizing a new Dolby Vision HDR master graded and approved by Suschitzky, and upscaled from the original 2K Digital Intermediate (HDR10 is also included). The idea of slapping a new color grade on a 4K upscale may displease some at first glance, but getting a look at the results presented here, one can’t help but be impressed. It’s a beautiful presentation, replete with a thin veneer of grain and high levels of detail. It’s much crisper looking, with only the most minor white speckling occasionally visible. The color depth has been expanded, allowing for improved blacks and much more nuance in the color, which really pops (particularly in the restaurant scenes). Blood is a lush crimson, while flesh tones are natural, and the often rainy, city-bound environments are awash with vibrancy and added dimension. A true 4K scan might yield additional detail from the negative, but the improvement already apparent here suggests that gains could be minimal. This is a highly organic presentation with great depth and new-found clarity.
Audio is included in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. Eastern Promises is not a film that warrants major surround activity. Nonetheless, the 5.1 track envelops and widens in the necessary areas. Ambient city activity and falling rain dominate the rear speakers, while the violent confrontations explode all around the sound stage. Dialogue exchanges are crisp and Howard Shore’s score comes through with plenty of clarity. The stereo track is obviously a more compressed experience, but the 5.1 serves the film dutifully.
Eastern Promises is presented on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray (in 1080p) in a 2-Disc set. The Blu-ray release has also been sourced from the same master, but given its own SDR grade by Peter Suschitzky. Both discs sit inside a black amaray case with an insert and slipcover featuring the original theatrical poster artwork. The following extras are included on the Blu-ray disc only:
- Birthmarks: Stephen Knight of Promises (HD – 10:05)
- Secrets and Stories (SD – 10:32)
- Marked for Life (SD – 6:42)
- Two Guys Walk Into a Bath House (SD – 1:55)
- Watts on Wheels (SD – :55)
- Trailer #1 (HD – 1:55)
- Trailer #2 (HD – 2:22)
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Trailer (HD – 2:01)
- In Bruges Trailer (HD – 2:30)
- The Indian Runner Trailer (SD – 2:31)
In the new featurette, Birthmarks, screenwriter Stephen Knight discusses the origins of discovering the Russian mafia world and its characteristics. He also speaks about setting the story in London and what people from that world might be like or do in the Russian mafia’s world, David Cronenberg’s style and his approach to the material, the brutality of the bath house scene, and the challenges of bringing the story to the screen. It’s an excellent, albeit short piece that required a small volume adjustment to hear it properly. Secrets and Stories speaks to the cast and crew about the film and the subject matter at hand. It’s all broad strokes, as expected, but provides some nice detail. Marked for Life discusses the tattoos on the characters in the film and their importance. In Two Guys Walk Into a Bath House, Cronenberg briefly talks about the big scene in the film. In Watts on Wheels, Naomi Watts briefly speaks about riding the motorcycle in the film. Last is two of the film’s trailers and three trailers for other Kino Lorber releases. Not included from a couple of French and German Blu-ray and DVD releases are additional interviews, featurettes, The Mark of Cain documentary, B-roll footage, and TV spots.
Much of David Cronenberg’s filmography from the 1970s and 1980s has been highly documented and celebrated over the years, but his output in the 2000s doesn’t get nearly as much ink, digital or otherwise. Revisiting Eastern Promises reminds us that, in any decade, he’s a filmmaker to be admired. Kino Lorber’s 4K Ultra HD presentation of the film is stellar, even if the extras are a bit lackluster.
- Tim Salmons