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‘The Promise’ (review)

Produced by Eric Esrailian,
Mike Medavoy, William Horberg
Written by Terry George, Robin Swicord
Directed by Terry George
Starring Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon,
Christian Bale, Daniel Giménez Cacho,
Shohreh Aghdashloo, Rade Šerbedžija

 

The Promise centers on hopeful Armenian medical student Mikael (Oscar Isaac), as he takes the dowry from his engagement to a local village girl to study in Constantinople. While staying with his uncle he meets the beautiful and bewitching Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) who is from a neighboring village.

Unfortunately she is in a relationship with American reporter Chris (Christian Bale).

As the Turkish empire becomes increasingly hostile toward Armenians, their relationships with each other are tested.

Set in the time of the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Turks, The Promise gives a harrowing account of tragedies that are still denied today by the Turkish government.

It is unfortunate that director Terry George decided to shoehorn a love triangle between Chris, Ana, and Mikael into what could have been a great movie about Mikael’s journey from a time of hopeful dreaming to deadly fear of his own government. The love story would not be such a dreadful addition if any chemistry existed between Ana and either man. There was no believable passion in any of their scenes together. Even as Mikael pulls Ana close to indulge in their desires, it feels cold and forced.

On the other hand, when the story focuses on the plight of the Armenian people in a world where Turkish aggression leads to the state sanctioned murder of their community, it shines. Here is the George we know from Hotel Rwanda, who can create heart wrenching shots of tragedy that suck the very air from your lungs. A scene where Mikael clutches the body of a loved one and chokingly cries out his despair is especially chilling. However, death and violence are not as prevalent as the sweeping romance the film keeps dragging us back to. This movie would have been greatly improved if the ratios were reversed for the two storylines. It is not that the movie needs more violence; it is simply that the genocide is a far more interesting story.

With the soap-y script that the actors were given, they were still relatively interesting across the board. Oscar Isaac was strongest when not burdened by love scenes. His turn in the middle of the film at a work camp particularly stands out as an excellent 20 minutes of story. Watching Isaac struggle to return home and the following march to Musa Dagh with other survivors in the region is part of the upturn in the movie’s pacing. Bale plays an honest and ethically unflappable Associated Press reporter with his usual brilliance. Even as a complete savior persona his character is likable and worth rooting for. The weakest performance is turned in by Le Bon. Her acting is serviceable, but pales next to her costars ability to draw focus even in silence.

The Promise is an old school romantic historical drama but it feels overly syrupy when it strays from history and chooses drama. But the story of an underpublicized genocide is worth the ticket price if only to bring knowledge to a conversation that has needed to happen. This is a flowery but well-meaning start to that discussion.

 

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