There is a bit of a conundrum with how I felt about The Promise, the newest film from director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda). On one hand, telling the world about the genocide of the Armenian people is extremely important. It must be seen and heard, especially by those who may not know of the history of these people. I knew very little and was glad to learn. They were removed from their homes and mercilessly killed during the fall of the Ottoman empire. The unfortunate part however, is that this film is lacking in the focus and emotions to make it worthy of it's epic scale and attempt at romance. Frankly, The Promise fails to keep any end of the bargain.   

The Promise

Oscar Isaac stars as Mikael, a young man from a small Armenian village, whose passion is to take care of the sick in need. His plan involves taking the dowery he received from the woman he's been betrothed to marry, so he can attend medical school in Constantinople. While learning the trade, he lives with his wealthy uncle, whose daughters are watched by the charming nanny Ana (played by The Walk actress Charlotte Le Bon). Mikael's promise to return home becomes difficult to keep, as his fondness of Ana grows. There is also the presence of the third wheel in this love triangle, the heavy drinking, Associated Press reporter Chis Meyers (Christian Bale), who is in a relationship with Ana, but also intent on capturing the violent acts in this country on the cusp of World War I. It makes for an intriguing conflict of love with a background wartime setting. The only problem is, Terry George does not seem to know which story to focus on.

The cast of this film should be more than enough to make plenty of movies work, but the script, written by George and Robin Swicord, fails to zone in on one story, let alone juggle three at a time. Sometimes the film is depicting the horrendous acts made by the Turks, which is then followed by focusing on the struggle that Mikael must endure to survive the war. The love story is the films weakest part. When Mikael and Ana escape from a dust up with Turkish rioters, there is little drama felt in the connection they make. Partially because it's predictable, but also because Bale's character spends such little time with Ana, it's hard to believe they ever cared for one another in the first place.

Some of the films highlights belong to the large set pieces, especially scenes involving massive groups of people being forced out of villages, and fighting the Turkish armies. Visually, a lot of The Promise is striking to look at. The performances however, those feel completely wasted. Isaac delivers strong emotional and physical work, while Bale seems pushed to the back of the film. His character is subjected to drunk tirades, while constantly telling others he meets that he is “Chris Meyers with the Associated Press”. I'm not kidding, he says it, what seems like 10 different times. The vibe that George seemed to be going for is all off too. I think his approach is in the vein of a Doctor Zhivago or Reds, but fails to even come close to capturing any of the greatness of those films.

It's all a shame, really. The atrocities that happened to the Armenian people deserve a film to tell the world what happened to them. Some might be fine with The Promise and happy alone with this movies very existence. I would have to disagree. There is just too much potential wasted here, in a story of this scale, with actors of this magnitude. I don't like to place blame, but the disappointment falls on director Terry George. You could say that everyone involved did their part to make The Promise work. It was the director who seem to be the one who broke his promise.


Written by: Leo Brady