The Promise Movie Review
Rarely do you encounter such uplifting material as The Promise, a movie that depicts the Armenian genocide where Turkey systematically killed up to 1.5 million people during World War I. The drama, which stars Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale and Charlotte Le Bon, attempts, and ultimately fails, to balance historical depiction of the atrocities with a love triangle story.
Isaac turns in a solid performance as Mikael Boghosian, an aspiring doctor who is betrothed to a woman in his home village so that he can afford to go to medical school in Constantinople. There he falls in love with Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), who is in a relationship with American reporter Chris Myers (Christian Bale). The three hit it off, but war breaks out and Turks begin to round up and attack the Armenian minority, forcing Mikael on a long and perilous journey to freedom (or death).
And ideally with either his wife or Ana at his side.
Directed by Terry George (Hotel Rwanda), The Promise has the look and feel of an old-school war romance. It’s beautiful at times and elegantly staged, even though it appears that the production ran out of money shortly before it concludes (more on that later). It’s a movie that, like Titanic or less successfully Pearl Harbor, attempts to paint a period of history through the eyes of lovebirds. It’s an approach that can succeed or fail depending on the substance of the material, and The Promise wavers throughout, sometimes clicking and sometimes, and in frustrating fashion, blowing up.
At a little over two hours long, The Promise feels much longer, which is odd given that it has stretches--especially in the first half--where George commands attention of the audience. The initial pre-war scenes could have used some tightening but generally work, and once bad things start to happen the movie rolls along for a while rather effortlessly. And yet I still looked at my watch thinking we were approaching the climax only to discover that another hour remained.
The movie starts to crumble in the second half and especially in the final act, as you begin to realize that the whole story was designed to back into a specific historical moment. Lots of people die, but it feels more melodramatic than emotional--and everything starts to feel more contrived than anything else. The movie’s final death, which needed to be a heartbreaker, is almost comical in how poorly it’s handled.
I literally chuckled.
At the end of a movie about the Armenian genocide.
The whole climax is just awkward as hell and appears to have been made after the film’s budget dried up; an assault by a huge Turkish squadron results in approximately 10 explosions and a few gunshots spread over several days. Even worse, all of the emotion that felt sort of real for most of the movie evaporates in an instant.
Less picky moviegoers may not care as much, but there’s truly only half a good movie in The Promise. Most of it is in the first half.
Nonetheless, there are some redeemable stretches in the movie and its depiction of a genocide that is rarely discussed (and refuted to this day by the Turkish government, despite plenty of credible evidence) is both well done and important. And you do feel for the main characters, at least for a while.
If the title is intended for the audience that it will be the next great romantic epic, The Promise is a broken one. The movie comes close to greatness, but ultimately it’s subpar, too long, too uneven and too forgettable.
On a side note, if you do watch the movie, ask yourself, does the film’s title even make sense once all is said and done?
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.