Starring Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Tom Hollander, James Cromwell, Jean Reno
Terry George’s The Promise has suffered a terrible roll out since debuting last year at the Toronto Film Festival. The historical Armenian genocide romantic war drama comes on the heels of another, The Ottoman Lieutenant and a slew of other World War I flicks released this spring. Compounded with Turkish government-sponsored trolls who submitted 4000 negative fraudulent ratings before the movie was released, the epic war film was riddled with controversy. The Promise, armed with historical value and importance, if given a chance, nearly rises above its downfalls. Sure, the screenplay embraces that love triangle formula overused in so many historical tragedies, but there’s a lot more to gain here. From the performances, suspense and scale, The Promise has educational value.
A young medical student from a small town uses his future wife’s inheritance to attend medical school in Constantinople. Mikael Boghosian (Isaac) is determined to make his family’s proud, and secure a good life for his bride when he returns. Turkey enters the World War in 1914 and all Armenian male citizens of fighting age are dispatched to aid the war effort. Mikael, has also fallen in love during his time in the city; Ana (Le Bon) the girlfriend of Associated Press war correspondent Chris Myers (Bale) and dance instructor to his couin. Mikael struggles to make his way back home to safety and fulfill his promise to the family. Myers and Mikael expose the genocide carried out by the Turkish army who are killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the name of “relocation”.
Armed with historical value and importance, if given a chance, nearly rises above its downfalls.
Like with Titanic, Cold Mountain or recent war epics A Bitter Harvest, The Ottoman Lieutenant, they all subscribe to this romantic love triangle that plays out in the forefront while history carries on in the back. George tweaks the formula a bit near the final act of The Promise, but many of the authentic negative reviews are a result of frustration with clichés within the genre. It takes nearly two acts of the film to dig into the history of the story, it’s worth the wait if you are seeking suspense and war action. Charlotte Le Bon (The Walk, Anthropoid) is the weak link among Oscar nominated Isaac (Ex Machina, Star Wars), who is very much the lead perspective and Oscar winner Bale (The Dark Knight, The Fighter) who fills a curious supporting role.
The locations from Portugal to Spain really create an elaborate sense of space and time for the picture. The production design in many of the interiors create depth to both characters and place. Oscar nominated Iranian actress Aghdashloo (The House of Sand and Fog) also gets a better bit part than usual as Mikael’s strong mother. The implementations of the film are stronger than its content. When the story is over and the film explains to the audience Turkey has still never accepted responsibility for the genocide, you sort of feel shortchanged that The Promise focused so much on the love triangle and not the victims.
Different war, standard love triangle cliché elevated by performance and quality filmmaking.