The steel-muscled actor spends many minutes of the movie unclothed - exhibiting story-significant tattoos, performing sex, or grappling in a lifeor death bathhouse wrestling match. As Russian mob driver/undertaker Nikolai Luzhin, Mortensen doesn't say much…his body does most of the talking.
Directed by David Cronenberg from a Steve Knight script, "Eastern Promises" goes "Sopranos" with the Russian gangsters in London. Innocent hospital midwife Anna (Naomi Watts) attends a 14-year-old,31 who dies giving birth to a beautiful baby. Enamored of the infant, Anna goes on an obsessive quest to find the child's relatives. In possession of the dead mom's Russian-language diary, she finds herself amongst former Soviet-expatriate mobsters, whose front is a high-class restaurant, but the real cash-cow commerce is teen girl slave trade.
Heading the den of cuisine and corruption is godfatherly restaurateur Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), inordinately willing to translate the diary for Anna. However, the academic honors are performed by Anna's Uncle Stepan (Jerzy Skolimowski), after which he is horrified to discover that the deceased girl was a victim of intense mob abuse.
Nikolai lingers around with longing looks for Anna, routinely upstaging Semyon's wild and wacky son, Kirill (Vincent Cassel). At one point, mob big shots arrive to inspect Nikolai's allover tattoos and decide whether to make him a "made" man, which means more tattoos. All this fascination with his nakedness culminates in the steam room tussle, a bizarre combination of the over-the-top scenes in "Borat" and "Psycho." It won't be easily forgotten or removed from conscious or unconscious minds of moviegoers. Its extreme violence is in context with other graphic gore moments sprinkled throughout the film, signatures of Cronenberg dating back to his early horror period ("Rabid," "The Brood').
"Eastern Promises" is the European flip side of the director's Middle American-based "A History of Violence," also starring Viggo Mortensen… except there, he was wearing more than his tattoos.