When I started this blog, I put together a list of rules to impose upon myself during the review process to keep them mostly related to my personal taste and the film’s general execution. The first and most important rule was “don’t let personal politics taint the review.” This was put into place so I could more closely judge films based on merit instead of pettiness. That being said, The Promise, a film about the Armenian Genocide, is good.
Set in the mid-1910s, the film stars Oscar Isaac (who adds Armenian to his list of portrayed ethnicities) as Mikael, a poor Armenian who gets money from the father of a woman he will marry and moves to Constantinople to become a doctor. There, he meets a wealthy Turkish man (who you can tell will either try to help him and fail, or betray him later on) and Ana (played by Charlotte Le Bon,) an Armenian-French woman who is involved with an American reporter named Chris, played by Christian Bale.
Once Turkey enters the World War, the film is split into two uneven plot threads. The first, more prevalent plot thread follows Mikael, who is taken to a labor camp and escapes. He then returns to his hometown, gets married and tries to help his family flee the Ottoman Empire. The second, minor plot thread follows Chris as he tries to expose the war crimes that are taking place within the country while also trying to escape. These two plot threads cross multiple times during the film. Meanwhile, there is a love rectangle with Mikael and his bride, Mikael and Ana, and Ana and Chris. This love rectangle takes up the crux of the movie, and at points overshadows the war aspect.
The most glaring of the flaws in this film are some of the acting choices. Ana, despite being an Armenian raised in France played by a Frenchwoman, has an American accent with only a hint of any accent that could be interpreted as Eastern European. Christian Bale, who is usually great in the movies he’s in, takes every scene he’s in and chews it up. Other than that, there’s the aformentioned focus on the love rectangle, a few clichés, and some studio-provided hokiness.
Despite this, the film is strong in some aspects. One scene has Mikael on the top of a train car when it starts raining. Inside the car, the voices of dozens of people are heard crying with joy as they are provided with water. This and a few other scenes have so much emotion behind them. Director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) shows that he can provide a great amount of information without a punishing amount of exposition and a limited color pallete.
In my closing statement, I feel like I need to break my first rule. I may not know much about world history, but I do know this: the Armenian Genocide was a despicable act brought forth by despicable people, and any attempt to cover these events up should be met with extreme opposition, or else this will happen again.