THE PROMISE review by Ronnie Malik – Isaac & Bale star in a historically important tale

THE PROMISE review by Ronnie Malik – Isaac & Bale star in a historically important tale


Director: Terry George

Cast: Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Angela Sarafyan, Charlotte Le Bon, James Cromwell, Tom Hollander, Jean Reno, Numan Acar, Rade Serbedzija, Michael Stahl-David, Tamer Hassan, Kevork Malikyan, Marwan Kenzari

Rating: B-

Setting the stage for love stories using historical data is an old Hollywood formula that seems to work over and over again.  Die hard romantics flocked to see wildly popular films like TITANIC, PEARL HARBOR, and LEGENDS OF THE FALL, for a bit of romance and got the benefit of a history lesson as the stories unfolded.  Director Terry George uses the beautiful Armenian countryside, the exotic city of Constantinople, and the changing tide of the Ottoman Empire just prior to World War I to set the stage for a doomed love triangle while giving us a glimpse into the systemic annihilation of the Armenian people by the Turkish government. The director’s latest film endeavor follows its three lead characters Michael (Oscar Isaac), Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), and Chris (Christian Bale) on a dangerous journey as they flee persecution by the Turkish forces. Will THE PROMISE deliver as the next greatest epic love story that will cross generations?

Michael, the apothecary of his village, desires to become a medical doctor. Agreeing to marry a local girl handpicked by his parents, Michael uses the dowry he receives from the girl’s father to enroll in a prestigious medical school in Constantinople. The noble medical student makes a promise to his bride-to-be that he will return as soon as he accomplishes his goal of completing medical school.  Taking up residence with his Uncle’s family, Michael meets Ana, a dance instructor and nanny hired by to teach his nieces the fine arts. Michael is immediately infatuated with the beautiful French speaking lady.  His hopes are high that he will win Ana’s heart but soon discovers that Ana is involved with Chris, a renowned American journalist. Chris and Ana are on a dangerous mission to expose the brutality inflicted on the Armenians by the government.  As time moves on the three players in this story manage in to become intertwined and the end result is a love triangle as both Chris and Michael try to win Ana’s heart.

Disaster strikes the threesome throughout the film.  Michael and Ana find themselves on the run when anti-American demonstrations flood the city streets. Stranded in a hotel, the two find themselves unable to resist each other only to get separated when corrupt military officials throw Michael into a labor camp. He miraculously manages to escape the horrors of the camp and makes his way back to his family where at the coxing of his parents he marries the local village girl, hides out in a secluded cabin, and starts leading a normal quiet life. Ana meanwhile is with Chris trying to save the uncle’s family and manages to get them to Michael’s village where they hope they will find their companion. But, Michael’s mother (who is aware her son fell in love with someone during his stay in the city) tells Ana and Chris that her son is dead. With nothing left to do, the two travelers embark on a mission to save orphaned children. Then of course, Michael discovers his mother’s lie and sets out to find Anna. He wants to bring Ana back to his village so he can gather his family and get everyone out of the country to safety. Much to Michael’s horror, he returns to his village to find his parents, pregnant wife, and townspeople massacred.  Michael, Ana, and Chris gather up the orphaned children for the journey to shelter. Before anyone has time to breath, Turkish soldiers discover the small group trying to escape to safety. Chris heroically uses himself as a diversion and gets captured by the soldiers and ultimately deported. With nothing left to do Michael joins Ana on the journey to another local village where they are told a priest will help them get orphaned children to safety.  And of course, the two lovers hit another obstacle as they discover that survivors of their destination on are now refugees. Leading the outcasts into the mountain, the local mayor, knowing that the Turkish military are in pursuit, convinces everyone to take a stand and fight the soldiers.

The storyline for THE PROMISE, which is loosely based on actual events, is rather predictable and what should have been a passionate love story barely causes a skip of heartbeat.  There is a complete lack of chemistry between Le Bon and Isaac so the romance between the two falls completely flat. When Isaac’s character returns home to marry his betroth there is absolutely no character development with the wife, played by Angela Sarafyan, making absolutely no sense how a man who supposedly was so enamored with another woman could so easily get into a relationship through an arranged marriage. Bale plays Ana’s jealous boyfriend but his reaction to Ana being attracted to another  man falls short in what could have been some big scene stealers in the film.  Isaac does have some good moments and is convincing on his own a gentle sincere man faced with difficult choices. Le Bon does manage to capture the feel of young aristocratic woman dealing with turmoil.

The pacing of the film is a bit choppy as it frantically tries to fit in all the mishaps the characters face. The tale feels very melodramatic as the saga moves from one tragedy to another.  The lead actors barely show off any genuine reaction to the horrors of war before they are moved on to the next disastrous scenario.  Even with all its flaws, this film (surprisingly) manages to be captivating and engaging. With a love affair to keep audiences engaged, the movie throws in some nasty villains and does make its point as unveils the atrocities suffered by the Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.  THE PROMISE won’t go down as one of the greatest love stories ever told but will be remember for the compelling look into a relatively unknown part of history (Turkey to this day denies genocide of 1.5 million people).

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