Out this week in cinemas is the historic drama The Promise, starring Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, and Christian Bale. The film follows the love triangle between Mikael (Isaac), Ana (Le Bon) and Chris Myers (Bale) against the backdrop of the final years of the Ottoman Empire.
The Promise opens with Mikael leaving his village to become a doctor for the betterment of his people. To achieve this, he becomes engaged to a wealthy girl in his village and leaves for Constantinople hoping to return in a few years. Once he arrives, he meets with his uncle and stays wth his family while he learns to be a doctor. During his first few months, he strikes up a friendship with Ana (Le Bon) who is teaching his uncle’s children. They instantly have a connection, and he goes out with her and her boyfriend Chris (Bale) who is an American journalist for the Associated Press. While this is going on, tensions grow between the Turks and the Armenians until the Ottoman Empire begins to round up the Armenians living in Constantinople and the Armenian Genocide begins. Mikael’s life in Constantinople is turned upside down as his uncle is imprisoned and when he tries to free him he too is imprisoned, separated from everyone he cares about.
The Promise offers a new perspective on World War I to film going audiences, many people are aware what happened in Europe, but The Promise helped me further appreciate the true scope of this horrific event in human history. Terry George masterfully shows the plight of the Armenian people who were almost systematically eradicated. There are scenes in this film that left me in tears from the sheer level of brutality, one, in particular, was hard to watch and the reason the scene stuck with me was down to Terry George’s directing and the actors involved. Oscar Isaac is a standout in this film, he’s committing himself to every scene, and I loved it, not one to be outdone Le Bon brings an emotional grace to Ana, the woman he loves unapologetically. She’s strong and intelligent and has a charming sense of humour; it’s easy to see why Mikael and Chris are so deeply in love with her. This brings me to the third lead, Christian Bale’s Chris Myers is an unflinching and intense American living in a very delicate area. He’s asking all the wrong questions at the wrong time, and it’s interesting to see the American attitude of the early 1900’s go up against the ancient beliefs of the Ottoman Empire. And unfortunately, when these three characters are together the film takes a halt to focus on the melodrama between them. This feels juvenile especially when you have this emotionally visceral backdrop that is so compelling. Now if you’re a fan of Titanic you may find this particular aspect of The Promise interesting, but for me, it just felt predictable and unwanted.
This brings me to the best part of The Promise, the backdrop. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire during this film is fascinating, learning about something so tragic and it is being treated with such respect that it is oddly beautiful. The scenes depicting the tragedy of these events were exceptionally moving, and I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
Do yourself a favour and head to your local cinema and watch this film because if you’re not educated on this particular moment in history you need to be, and the team behind it have done a commendable job to bring it to the attention of the world.