I can’t believe I call myself a history buff when I had no idea the breadth of the Armenian genocide that took place in the early 1900’s. It’s kind of amazing that it took this long for a movie to be made about the events, I don’t know that there wasn’t and honestly there probably was, but I didn’t catch it. The Promise is a film that takes place before and during the extermination of Armenians by the Ottoman government during the last years of the Ottoman empire, a reported 1.5 million people were killed. The film follows Mikael, an aspiring physician who moves to Constantinople to learn medicine. Not long after arriving the genocide begins leading him on a long road to safety and through a love triangle…that is technically a love square, during his flight to saftey. At the same time an American reporter for the associated press, Chris Meyers (Christian Bale) is trying to get to the bottom of the soon to erupt volcano of violence. Coming between and connecting the two is Ana, the beautiful housemate of Mikael’s uncle with whom he is staying. Along the way he is helped by a Turkish friend but ends up being sent to a labor camp anyway. He escapes and heads on a journey to his hometown where his mother, father and betrothed waits…see told you it was a love square.
This story alone deserves an amazing cinematic portrayal, Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale, and Charlotte Le Bon do everything in their power to make that happen and, in performance they succeed. Christian Bale seems to be falling into a standard performance that he shows here which, to his credit, is a good bit better than his peers. Oscar Isaac continues to elevate himself in today’s acting world and is quickly establishing himself as an A-list powerhouse and can easily slip out of the Poe Dameron ethos which will keep him from becoming pigeon holed…which just isn’t going to happen to this guy. Charlotte Le Bon is magnetic and grows on you more after first look, by the end of the movie you too will be in love, or at a minimum understand the love. The first thing you notice when seeing this movie is just how GORGEOUS Constantinople was at it’s height, even now you can see that this area is known as the most fertile land in the world and the cradle of life for a reason. Terry George does an amazing job capturing the beauty of not just the area but the culture it represents. In this part of the world far too few of us appreciate or have had the opportunity to observe the culture portrayed in the film.
Unfortunately, the visuals is where George’s skill seemed to peak. The film is, for lack of a better term, boring. Pacing is probably the official reason most will give and really it’s the most apt. There are amazing scenes of battle, suspense filled flights, and heart-wrenching losses but they are intercut with events that are either shot in a way to make them look dull or, perhaps more likely, just dull events. I feel like I should elaborate but what I’ve said pretty much covers it. At 2 ½ hours the film feels at least that long, if not a good half hour longer. The other main issue I had was the lack of historical education. We are never shown just why it is that the Turks hate the Armenians, just one day they all live together with what you can perceive as some tension and the next the Turks are indiscriminately slaughtering Armenians in the streets. I understand things must be condensed for screen time but at almost 120 minutes you could easily fit in some expository side language that would help clear up the motivations behind the tragedy, no matter how silly they may have been.
I’m not sure where this film fits in. It’s certainly not a date movie and, although it is good, it’s certainly not a fun movie. The artsy crowd is probably the sweet spot for this film. If you’re not directly interested in the Armenian Genocide and/or are easily distracted and fidgety this certainly isn’t the film for you. Beautiful but uneven I would watch The Promise again, but it would have to be in a comfy chair.