Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.
United Kingdom/Canada/USA, 2007. Kudos Film and Television, BBC Films, Serendipity Point Films, Corus Entertainment, Scion Films, Shine Pictures, Astral Media, Telefilm Canada, Focus Features. Screenplay by Steven Knight. Cinematography by Peter Suschitzky. Produced by Robert Lantos, Paul Webster. Music by Howard Shore. Production Design by Carol Spier. Costume Design by Denise Cronenberg. Film Editing by Ronald Sanders. Academy Awards 2007. Golden Globe Awards 2007. New York Film Critics Awards 2007. Online Film Critics Awards 2007. Toronto International Film Festival 2007.
An intriguing title and the reunion of the key figures of A History Of Violence bode well for this thriller-drama that eventually fails on promises in any direction, despite excellent performances and beautiful cinematography by Peter Suschitzky. Naomi Watts plays a London doctor who delivers the baby of an unidentified teenager who subsequently dies after giving birth. Watts finds a diary among the girl’s effects that is unfortunately written in Russian, prompting her to ask her Russian uncle (what a happy coincidence!) to translate for her, but he refuses on moral grounds. Unable to shake off the possibility that this orphaned baby could end up in the unforgiving British legal system, Watts follows a clue to a restaurant that unfortunately turns out to be owned by the mafia king (Armin Mueller-Stahl) for whom the deceased girl once worked. She is now in a very volatile situation that is only eased by the kindly attentions of the family’s sarcastic chauffeur (Viggo Mortensen, donning a Russian accent and some nifty tattoos), who works for the boss’s sadistic son (Vincent Cassel) and hopes to make it into the family eventually. Cronenberg flits between the world of Watts and her family (including Sinéad Cusack as her mother) and that of the Russian thugs aimlessly, never fully deciding if he’s making a gangster picture or an emotionally charged drama, only committing himself to showing as much unnecessary violence as possible. The story has a few good twists, but most of the time there’s too much set-up for predictable results; it’s really a standard B-level genre movie that has pretensions of great art thanks to long takes and a heavy pace. Someday we hope that Russians make it into the movies as something other than organized crime or anti-American spies. And by the way, having Armin Mueller-Stahl playing a Russian without changing his German accent is like having Juliette Binoche play an Alabama diner hostess.