Viggo Mortensen received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Nikolai Luzhin in Eastern Promises.
Viggo Mortensen in this role begins with quite a challenge actually considering he has to play a driver for the Russian mob. This to begin with is a challenge since it requires the use of a Russian accent, and frankly the Russian accent is one of the easiest accents someone can get a bad laugh with. Mortensen handles his accent well though, making it seem entirely natural, and appropriate to his character.
For most of the film Mortensen character is not all that much of a mystery at the beginning of the film, as he seems to be just a relatively low level Russian mobster who does all the hard work for Kirill (Vincent Cassel) the son of the mob boss Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl). Mortensen in these early scenes as the perfect demeanor and if I may say, coolness in the role. He just as has the right manner in how he portrays Nikolai.
Mortensen is excellent in showing the manner in which he reacts with Kirill, and how he performs his jobs in the mob such as when he prepares a murdered mans body for disposal. Mortensen has the perfect ease and natural manner that suggests that Nikolai is a pure professional in even these gruesome jobs, as well as clearly having done this for awhile now showing the history of the character.
His relationships with the other characters are the key to Mortensen's performance, that show the truth underneath his tough exterior. His relationship with Kirill is interesting because at times Nikolai shows an incredible warmness to his like a caring older brother, who tries to protect the younger brother from harm such as from the abuse of Kirill's father.
His other relationship is with a nurse Anna (Naomi Watts) who is brought into the mob world due to helping a soon to die pregnant woman who was severely abused by the mob. His relationship with her is interestingly played, since he does show a quick attraction to her, before he really knows her, or she no he. Mortensen plays that first seen in a very charming fashion showing a different side to Nikolai, but later on when business decides his actions he puts on colder method, a facade of sorts, to deal with her.
Near of the end of the film though there is a rather big revelation that is most certianly a big spoiler. It is revealed that he is actually an undercover agent for the mob working for the Russian and British authorities in order to infiltrate the mob. This sort of turns the whole concept on the character on its head, and watching it a second time, Mortensen never clearly gives away the hidden nature of Nikolai, but does suggest it through a very slight air of distaste and disgust he has with the mob life as he goes about his tasks in that life.
Mortensen performance is an excellent piece of work, which is a nice smooth and slick piece of acting. He never exactly gets much of chance to slow down and develop but he brilliantly develops Nikolai as the film proceeds through anyways. It is a strong performance throughout and the strength of the performance is best summed through his last shot. It shows a now in power Nikolai, with a powerful outward demeanor, but Mortensen shows a great subtle suggestion of Nikolai thoughts of a better life of what he could have head. Overall a strong effective performance which improves even more on repeated viewings.