Anna: So you've read the diary. How can you keep doing what you're doing?
Nikolai Luzhin: I'm just a driver.
Director David Cronenberg teams up again with Viggo Mortensen for this well made, well acted Russian mob crime drama set in London.
There are really two stories here, which despite involving the same characters, really do not come together until nearing the end.
The first story involves a pregnant girl dying in a hospital, but not before giving birth to her child. A nurse, Anna, played by Naomi Watts, discovers a Russian diary in the pregnant girl's purse, and decides to get it translated in order to see if there is any family for the baby to go to now.
This leads her to a restaurant run by Semyon, played by Armin Mueller-Stahl. When Semyon is not managing the restaurant, he is doing his work as one of the big wheels in the Russian mob. Semyon's discovery of this diary makes him curious, while Watts only wants to find out the truth behind the dead girl's life.
Anna's plot serves as a gateway into this Russian mob life and into the other plot, which involves Semyon's son, Kirill, played by Vincent Cassel, and a driver Nikolai, played by Mortensen. After Kirill does something he shouldn't under the nose of his father, Semyon is at the point where he needs to figure out what to do with his son, how to further business by helping along Nikolai, and what to do about other characters involved in the mob.
Kirill: [about Nikolai] He is no driver, he is the undertaker.
As the stories moves on, connections between the two become more and more apparent, before reaching a well wrapped up conclusion.
Nikolai Luzhin: Anger is dangerous. It makes people do stupid things.
The main strength of the movie lies in its performances. Watts is very good as a nurse, who has had trouble in her own past in relating to this situation, involving dead girl and her child. Cassel's Kirill is a well seen slimy character, who at one point forces another character to have sex with an underage girl in front of him, to prove that he is loyal. Mueller-Stahl is quietly evil as Semyon, who does very little physically, but is very imposing just because of his demeanor.
Semyon: So, you know where I am...and now I know where you are, Anna Ivanovna.
Mortensen truly shines as the mysterious driver Nikolai. He literally gives it his all for the character, absorbed by his accent, the look of him ranging from his many tattoos, to the tiny scars like the one above his lip, bringing all sorts of mannerisms to his character for the better. He is truly great throughout, and the way the story works to develop his character is pretty amazing.
As a Cronenberg film, even as it is fairly accessible for most audiences, he still has the scenes that make this a Cronenberg film. I am referring to the brutal violence on display at times, including an amazing fight in a wash room, that is incredibly thrilling and painful to watch as one very vulnerable character does just about everything to survive. In addition, again true to Cronenberg films, Howard Shore provides a great score.
On my first viewing of this feature, I seemed to have been less involved than I was for the additional viewings. I can easily say that I really love this movie. Its very lean, getting to the point, while still maintaining a tone comparable to other, more epic in scope, crime dramas. The story is very carefully setup to reveal the why of everything very late in the game, and while its certainly interesting to observe these characters, namely Nikolai, one the film shifts into its final 30 minutes, it really fits all the puzzle pieces exactly into place.
By the end of the film, I was fully interested in seeing further installments of this film in order to see the further exploits of Mortensen's Nikolai, and the early rumors of plans for a sequel make me more than happy.
A well acted, brutal crime drama.
Nikolai: Forget any of this happened. Stay away from people like me.