The Promise Review
The Promise doesn’t really live up to its promise.
The Armenian genocide is one of the biggest untold stories in all of human history. Early in the 20th century, over a million and a half Armenians died at the hands of the Turks. Still to this day, the Turkish government denies that these events actually happened. This story was ripe for the taking and now it’s finally being told.
Director Terry George is no stranger to stories about genocide. He successfully chronicled the Rwandan genocide in Hotel Rwanda and now, he sets his sights on the Armenian genocide in The Promise.
Unfortunately, The Promise isn’t that good. There are a lot of issues in the film and in the end, the sweeping historical epic is disappointingly unremarkable.
The Promise follows Michael Boghosian, an aspiring apothecary who dreams of becoming a doctor. After he becomes betrothed to a young woman, he uses his dowry to study medicine in Constantinople. When he reaches the Turkish capital, he crosses paths with Ana and quickly develops a relationship with her. Despite her relationship with Chris Myers, Ana and Michael continue with their relationship. Little do they know that their worlds are about to explode when the Ottoman Empire joins the war…
The Promise isn’t so much a historical drama about the Armenian genocide. The film is quite effective when it focuses on that historical aspect. The conflict between the Armenians and Turks is really interesting from a historical point-of-view. But if you’re looking for a thorough examination about the genocide then you should look somewhere else. The Promise is not that film. Instead, it follows the path of three people stuck in a love triangle. If that reminds you of Titanic then you would be right. The sheer importance of the Armenian genocide becomes undermined by a wannabe-Titanic love story. Not to mention, this drags on for so long that it grows more and more tiresome.
It’s also important to realize that there is a total lack of empathy for the characters, as well. The Promise takes a lot of unwarranted moral leaps that assist in the film’s various characterization issues. The weaknesses in the plot and characterizations are only amplified by a poor script. For this reason, the heavy subject matter won’t have much of a lasting impact on its audience.
Director Terry George doesn’t do the film any favors by editing the film at an insufferable pace. He occasionally lingers too long on scenes that shouldn’t then speeds through scenes that should. Furthermore, he struggles to build any tension throughout the course of the film. On a positive note, he does effortlessly capture the striking landscape of Spain and Portugal. The amazing cinematography is the only real constant in the film.
Undoubtedly, the biggest draw of The Promise is its cast and their performances are solid overall. Oscar Isaac brings his usual soulful and charismatic self to the Michael Boghosian role. He portrays his character with a wide array of emotions. It’s not surprising since his character goes through hell throughout the course of the film. From The Dark Knight to The Big Short, Christian Bale excels playing headstrong characters. That’s why Bale is perfect as Chris Myers. Rounding out the cast is Charlotte Le Bon who does some solid work as Ana. Sadly, she’s relegated to only being Mikael and Chris’ emotional connection. The terrific cast cannot save this film, though.
Overall, The Promise earnestly wanted to be a film that makes the Armenian genocide universally accessible. It succeeds there but fails as a film. It eventually succumbs to its sappy love story and completely undermines the seriousness of the subject matter. The film had a chance to be great but it doesn’t quite live up to its promise.
Rating: 2/5 atoms