Home Video Review: Eastern Promises on 4K UHD
With Crimes of the Future, David Cronenberg’s fourth collaboration with star Viggo Mortensen, right around the corner, Kino Lorber has issued a new release of the director and actor’s second feature together, 2007’s Eastern Promises. Their follow-up to the critically acclaimed A History of Violence, Cronenberg and Mortensen — alongside writer Steven Knight and co-star Naomi Watts — turn their sights on the operations of the Russian mafia in London. When hospital midwife Anna Khitrova (Watts) comes across the diary of a teenage girl who just died in childbirth, she finds herself descending into a dangerous world of crime and punishment in her attempts to track down the child’s surviving family. As she crosses paths with crime boss Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), his live-wire son Kirill (Vincent Cassell), and their enigmatic fixer Nikolai (Mortensen), webs of morality and violence grow ever murkier, and all the film’s players must determine just how far the bonds of loyalty reach.
One of the more straightforward works in Cronenberg’s filmography, Eastern Promises nonetheless offers more than the typical surface-level crime drama. The director’s fascination with both the internal and external natures of sex and violence are on full, if somewhat muted, display — the body horror of Crash or The Fly or Videodrome finds an analog in bodily modification through tattoos and the role sex plays in consolidating power and amplifying the terrors of patriarchal domineering. Though the screenplay by Knight sometimes veers into a twisty pulpiness not entirely in line with the relatively restrained filmmaking on display, the ultimate result — particularly given the fine acting by the four principle cast members, highlighted by Mortensen’s nuanced work — is a film that lingers enough to demand revisitation despite the unpleasantness at the core.
Kino Lorber’s release comes in a two-disc package: one 4K UHD disc and one standard Blu-Ray. Both the 4K and Blu-Ray versions of the film are sourced from a new UHD master, approved and color graded by the film’s cinematographer — and frequent Cronenberg collaborator — Peter Suschitzky, and feature two DTS-HD Master Audio tracks (5.1 and 2.0). The 4K disc has Dolby Vision and HDR10 color grades.
The 4K Dolby Vision transfer is truly excellent. Fine details are noticeable and the visual presentation feels exceedingly crisp without losing filmic quality — there’s a pleasant, but not overwhelming amount of grain. Colors pop against the wintry palette, but don’t distract or feel out of character, and the level of detail allows for a deeper appreciation of both the photography and the other visual elements of the production design: smoke swirling up inside a room is entrancing, and the costume design by Denise Cronenberg (the director’s sister) becomes truly splendid without being flashy. Contrast is uniformly excellent, with darker scenes holding up particularly well and avoiding crush. Video bitrate remains fairly stable in the 80-90Mbps range, and slight dips during some exterior shots rarely came with a corresponding dip in noticeable quality. While the Blu-Ray also offers excellent 1080p quality, the 4K UHD — especially with the Dolby Vision grade — is a clear step up. Audio-wise, while the 2.0 track is strong, the 5.1 mix really excels without being overbearing. Dialogue is clear and clean while ambient noise fills the other speakers as necessary — scenes with rain are impressively immersive, as are sequences taking place in crowded rooms — and Howard Shore’s fantastic score is well-served.
The special features are housed on the Blu-Ray, and consist mostly of short featurettes, along with two newly mastered theatrical trailers. The featurettes are comprised mainly of your typical discussions with the cast and crew, including Cronenberg, Knight, and Watts, and range from 1 to 10 minutes in length — all interesting enough, with insight that makes them worth watching, but nothing to really write home about. If you’re buying this set it’ll be for the newly remastered version of the film itself; fortunately, the superb transfer makes its case convincingly.