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The Promise (Oscar Isaac/Christian Bale) - DVD Review

The Promise

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

TERRY George’s historical epic The Promise may suffer from some self-consciously contrived romantic elements but its importance as a movie must not be under-estimated.

The film sets a love triangle against the backdrop of the Armenian genocide that occurred at the hands of Turkey’s Ottoman Empire during the First World War. But it does so unapologetically, in an attempt to raise awareness of an atrocity that, to this day, its perpetrators still deny.

And by opting to use a romantic backdrop, George is merely honouring the wishes of the late billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, an Armenian-American, and former owner of MGM, who provided most of the financing for the film on the basis that it would be made in such a way that it could, possibly, reach the widest audience possible.

Indeed, such is the notoriety of the now completed film in Turkish circles, that a rival movie has been created in an attempt to undermine George’s work. While past attempts to get the film made, including one by Sylvester Stallone during the 70s, have all failed.

George, whose body of work extends to Some Mother’s Son, In The Name of The Father and – most notably – Hotel Rwanda, has therefore achieved something incredible in its own right, while remaining careful throughout to be as historically accurate as possible in order to deflect any easy criticisms surrounding creative licence.

Hence, all of the atrocities mentioned or depicted in his film actually took place, including the climactic flight to freedom under artillery fire, while even some of the conversations are recounted verbatim (witness one involving James Cromwell, whose dialogue remains faithful whenever talking about actual US-Turkish foreign policy, as opposed to the characters in the film).

George deserves maximum credit for this, while still managing to deliver a film that offers genuine emotional investment, no matter how contrived the set-up feels in places.

The story essentially focuses on Armenian student Mikael (Oscar Isaac), who becomes engaged to a woman from his village in order to fund his bid to become a Turkish doctor, but who promptly falls in love with the glamorous Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), who is herself seemingly betrothed to US reporter Chris (Christian Bale).

But when World War I breaks out, the trio find their lives altered more dramatically than anyone would dare believe, as both Ana and Mikeal find themselves in peril while Chris sets about bringing news of the Armenian plight to the world.

The Promise

George’s film does, by the director’s own admission, contain some elements that are hokey at best. But it remains impeccably acted by the three leads, with Isaac working especially hard to convey Mikael’s descent from romantic idealist to desperate survivor. He has several bravura moments. But Bale is typically persuasive as the journalist torn between doing his job and saving the woman he loves, while Le Bon is as loveable as she is determined.

George’s film doesn’t sugar-coat the horrors of the genocide either, delivering several moments that chill psychologically (while remaining within the boundaries of a 12A). And he doesn’t overlook the emotional cost, or complexity of the situation, refusing even to paint every Turk as a villain. Indeed, there are several sympathisers throughout, whose compassion for the Armenian plight comes at great personal sacrifice.

Hence, George has crafted a piece of work that has echoes of past films such as his own Hotel Rwanda and Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, while also adhering to the type of romantic epic backdrop and traditional storytelling style of former greats such as David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago or Warren Beatty’s Reds.

If The Promise falls short of achieving that kind of classic status as a piece of cinema in its own right, it still deserves to be held in high esteem for the way in which it juggles popular needs with something capable of opening people’s eyes, and which resonates with contemporary headlines concerning the plight of refugees.

As such, it deserves to reach – and touch – the widest audience possible.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 133mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: September 4, 2017

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