‘The Promise’ Review: Love Story Detracts From More Important Story
The Promise, a story that should have been told long ago, finds it self more relevant than ever and far more relevant than it probably should be. In the era of travel restrictions, a global refugee crisis, and the first reported use of concentrations camps since World War II, The Promise, which takes place in the midst of the Armenian genocide – a horrendous event that the world has largely dismissed since it happened – shows audiences that human tragedy is often repeated.
The Promise, which stars Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon and Christian Bale, is the story of a love triangle – or even a rectangle at times – getting more and more complicated as the Ottoman military begins to slaughter Armenians in the moments leading up to World War I.
Isaac plays Mikael Boghosian, an Armenian apothecary from a small village who heads to Constantinople to become a doctor. When he arrives he meets Ana (Le Bon), a dance instructor of Armenian heritage. Bonding over their shared background, the begin to fall in love, much to the chagrin of Chris Myers (Bale), an American AP reporter covering the war, and more importantly, Ana’s long-time boyfriend. As the Ottoman military amps up their efforts, Mikael, Ana, and Chris get spread out across a country on the brink of collapse.
The Armenian Genocide, in which an estimated 1.5 Armenians were murdered, has yet to be recognized by either the Turkish government or a U.S. president – former President Barack Obama said he would formally recognize the event as a genocide when he campaigned in 2008 but did not follow through on his promise at any point during his 8 years in office.
A crime against humanity on a scale this large deserves to be recognized, remembered, and mourned and on this front, The Promise delivers. There is very little doubt that the film has a message – towards the end, Isaac proudly proclaims that the Armenians are still very much here. But even though the message is clear, it is muted by the love story happening on top of it.
When Armenians are being rounded up and put into work camps, it is hard to worry about Mikael’s love for Ana. When an entire Armenian village is stabbed to death in the woods, it is hard to sympathize with the jealous reporter, still deeply in love with his unfaithful girlfriend. Unfortunately, this battle between love story and important historical event causes both to fall flat.
The Promise is directed by Terry George, who also directed Hotel Rwanda, a similarly haunting story about genocide. Under George’s direction, The Promise is comprised of many beautiful shots, tragic as they may be.
Isaac, Le Bon, and Bale all turn in good performances despite the material they have been given – much of the dialogue is cliché and Isaac, speaking English the entire film, has an unrecognizable accent that sounds foreign for the sake of being foreign.
While not to be taken as a direct historical account – as no Hollywood movie should be – The Promise should be viewed for the fact alone that it gives recognition to an event that has been ignored by Hollywood, but by the world at-large. If you can stomach a dull love story, The Promise is worth a watch.
The Promise opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, April 21.
Watch the trailer below.