Dan's Review: "The Promise" fails to address history
Oscar Isaac and Charlotte Le Bon in The Promise - © 2017 Open Road Films
The Promise (Open Road Films)
Rated PG-13 for thematic material including war atrocities, violence and disturbing images, and for some sexuality.
Starring Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale, Daniel Giménez-Cacho, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Rade Šerbedžij, Abel Folk, Andrew Tarbet, Angela Sarafyan, Armin Amiri, Marwan Kenzari, Yigal Naor, Garen Boyajian, Kvork Malikyan, Numan Acar, Roman Mitichyan, Jean Reno, Tom Hollander, Jean Claude Ricquebourg, James Cromwell, Alicia Borrachero, Milene Mayer Gutierrez, Michael Stahl-David, Rade Serbedzija, Ozman Sirgood
Written by Terry George and Robin Swicord.
Directed by Terry George.
There are untold many parts of history. Some of them have been hidden deliberately by folks who want the world to forget unpleasant truths about their heritage, country or religious beliefs. The Turks would love for the world to forget part of their troubled past: the Armenian Genocide (1915-1923). With so many Armenians gone in a short period of time and the scattering of refugees across the globe, the history has been lost as well. Very few films have been made about the first “modern” holocaust, due to this lack of information – and due to intimidation from modern Turks (more on that later). The Promise is the first major motion picture to use the Armenian Genocide as a backdrop.
Oscar Isaac plays Mikael, an Armenian man from a southern village in Turkey, who is betrothed to Maral (Angela Sarayan). He uses Maral’s dowry to go medical school in Constantinople, where meets the beautiful Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) and her boyfriend Chris (Christian Bale), and American Associated Press reporter. Mikael and Ana fall in love at the exact time World War I comes calling, and the (Islamic) Ottoman Turkish government begins to round up (Christian) Armenians, take their possessions and systematically kill them. Mikael is sent to work in a rail line prison camp, but he escapes and reunites with Maral and his family in his village. Mikael an Maral are married and try to live in seclusion, but the Turkish soldiers eventually come calling. Trying to find an escape for his family, Mikael is reunited with Ana and Chris at a refugee camp. While trying to get Mikael’s family out of the village, the Turkish army attacks and kill almost all of the villagers. Mikael is able to escape with Ana and a few orphans, while Chris is captured and accused of being a spy. Through a little luck and diplomacy, Chris is allowed to be deported. Meanwhile, Mikael, Ana and the orphans joins with a group of resistance fighters who try to get to the coast where they will either die or wait for rescue. At the same moment the Turks move in, a French Navy vessel arrives (led by Chris, who has convinced a French admiral to help) to aid the refugees in the middle of a battle.
The Promise is a major disappointment, for several reasons. The biggest flaw is the silly love triangle between Mikael, Ana and Chris; a clichéd, sappy romance that takes up a huge portion of the drama (like you have time for such things in the middle of a holocaust). I suppose studios will always try to attract young audiences by using such tactics, but this kind of thing got old sometime around Titanic. The plot and story structure are equally frustrating, with the placement of an “American hero” in the timeline, another “youthful draw” tactic, apparently. Seeing Christian Bale posed at the bow of a small boat leading French soldiers to rescue dying refugees drums up all kinds of iconic imagery; like George Washington crossing the Delaware.
Besides these defects and others (the dialogue can get a little cheesy, too), the biggest defect in The Promise is the way in which the Armenian Genocide is smoothed over, apparently to maintain a PG-13 rating. If you are going to go to the trouble of making a movie about such a horrific event, you may as well show it for what it was: the systematic massacre of 1.5 million men, women and children. You can boldly achieve such storytelling as a function of art and humanity, much like Schindler’s List or Hotel Rwanda (also directed by Terry George). It seems like the audience’s feelings and box office demographics took precedence over reality in The Promise.
Now, to the intimidation factor surrounding The Promise. After the film was screened in three theaters a few months ago, film review aggregate websites like Metacritic, IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes listed The Promise. Overnight, the sites were inundated by negative ratings for the movie, with some garnering more than 80,000 entries, mostly from men living outside the U.S. It would seem that someone (or more specifically Turkish Armenian Genocide deniers) really wanted The Promise to fail before its nationwide release. Despite being outnumbered, Armenian survivor groups rallied to even the score a little later, giving the movie a less-than “midland” rating.
Ironically, no ratings skewering effort was needed, since the movie kind of stinks.
The Promise Trailer