“You might want to leave the room” Eastern Promises (2007)
I’m shit at lists – too indecisive to rank one thing above or below another. How do you differentiate between things that all have a more or less equal place in your heart, or your mind, or are of similar value? In the past, I have had to formulate such lists for work-related shit and my method has been as follows: write them on bits of paper and pull them out of a hat. Well, the hat is usually a plastic bag, but you get the idea.
When it comes to films – and things like directors, actors and individual scenes – I can pick out rough entries for a greatest list, but for Christ’s sake don’t ask me to put the bastards in an order.
Included within the contents of the plastic bag marked “Greatest Fight Scenes Ever” there is a scrap of inky paper folded in on itself many times, covered in spidery drawings of stars and St. Petersburg. Open it out and it will say ‘Nikolai Luzhin’s bath house blade fight.’ While it might not have a number, one scene in particular from David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises has an immovable place in my mind.
In a film where the rest of the violence present is on the whole restrained and non-gratuitous – a couple of quick throat slashes at most – Viggo Mortensen’s balls-out brawl with those gits and their lino cutters is brutal, bloody and memorable. Mortensen’s character has been shown as cold, calm and unshakeable up until this moment. The predictable course of action would be to have Luzhin slaughter his assailants instantly. Instead, Cronenberg shows that even though he might be one hard bastard, Luzhin is not indestructible, he can indeed get his ass well and truly kicked. But he can take that beating, the blood flowing from his wounds, and channel it into pure rage. It is anger, defiance, and the spirit of kneeling to no one that are his ultimate weapons. It is rage that makes this scene so memorable for me – don’t go thinking it’s all about him having his cock out. I’m not that shallow. Honestly. Well, not always.
For me, at least, Viggo Mortensen belongs to a special breed of actors that have a certain kind of inherent madness behind the eyes. That ability to bring forth unhinged and affecting violence from a very deep and very real place. I’ve tried to put this shit into words on a few occasions and it never quite works. I feel a further, more in-depth post on the subject is needed. Now, if only there were more than a few people who didn’t look at me like I’m a complete mentalist when I try to explain it…Seriously, this shit is going to take a while, because I have the feeling it could all come out wrong and leave me looking like a twisted, deviant fuck.
Eastern Promises shows Mortensen at his best, as quite possibly the toughest mother fucker you will ever come across. In the role of Nikolai, I find he overshadows Cassel completely, and I have a ridiculous amount of Cassel love going on in my head so I never expect that to happen.
Yes, there is much more to this film than just this one scene…but right now? I’ve had a bad day and in place of being able to fuck people up myself, I’m happy to sit back and enjoy someone else doing it.
For some more epic fight scenes, from the violent to the ridiculous, you may wish to head here.