Cronenberg's superb A History of Violence left me with high expectations for his next movie, and that is, in a way, unfair to Eastern Promises. EP is a great movie, but it is not even in the same category with A History of Violence. The building blocks of EP's plot are quite interesting, but the execution, the details (especially the ancillary dialogs) are lame; distracting at best (like the cheesy-ass attempts at comedy from Naomi's racist uncle).
In Eastern Promises, Naomi Watts is a nurse who helps out a teenage mother. The teenage girls dies during labor and Naomi feels like she needs to find out the whereabouts of the girl's family so that the baby can be sent them. In her quest for information, she becomes entangled with the Russian mafia. We have Armin Mueller-Stahl as the big boss, Vincent Cassel as his son, and Viggo Mortensen as the family's, uh, driver. That's all you need to know.
In Eastern Promises you get the gory violence Cronenberg is famous for right in the first few minutes. There are other gory scenes, one of which is quite original. Viggo fights two guys -- totally naked. The two guys are not naked but Viggo is, which, I think, adds a very interesting layer of risk to the fight. We see Viggo's parts swinging left and right, dodging the blades and small knifes. Superb.
Eastern Promises packs quite a bit of gay content, but my discussion of the homo scenes will ruin the part of the plot.
Early in the movie, Vincent Cassel is leaning over the body of a guy he had killed. Vincent calls him something in Russian which is translated to "pederast" for us. By the scorn with which Vincent utters the epithet, we are lead to believe the guy died for being gay.
In another scene, Vincent is dancing with a few prostitutes and slaves (it seems most were slaves smuggled from eastern Europe), two of the girls kiss (a little bit of lesbos action), and Vincent orders Viggo to have sex with a girl of Viggo's choosing. Vincent wants to see the sex act because he wants to make sure Viggo is not gay. By Vincent's insistence, we can already see that he is overly concerned with the "queer" matter.
Later in the movie, we find out that the guy who was murdered early in the movie was killed, in part, because he spread rumors about Vincent being gay. When Vincent's father learns that from Viggo, the father does not seem surprised, and blames London (seriously), "the land of whores and queers."
It's all bad for the gays. Most of the time, though, it's bad people who are using slurs or berating them gays, so, that's not so bad (because they are bad people and viewers should know most of what they do is wrong), but I believe the light becomes clearly negative for the gays when it becomes pretty settled that Vincent, an idiot, a coward, violent, etc. is a closet case, a bad guy who is gay himself.
I'm not going to discuss how the circumstance of the closet and societal and family macho pressure can lead gays to do bad things (ranging from the Larry Craigs to the Ted Haggards and the like to the gays who do really nasty stuff, like that German guy who chopped up his friends' parts and ate them), suffice to say that as a matter of fact, Vincent is portrayed in the worst light possible; he is a nasty person, the lowest in the movie. Other bad people in the movie are "at least" portrayed as bad-asses, fearless or even brave, but Vincent is only bad. All bad.