NOTE: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the film.
The brutal and harrowing atrocities depicted are diluted by the affairs of the heart leaving the film unbalanced as it strives to be both an epic war drama and a tragic love story.
Terry George [the director] has aspirations of “Doctor Zhivago” but the end result is akin to an attempt at turning “Schindler’s List” into a romance film.
-Joseph Friar (FLIX!)
Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac) is a small-town “apothecary” (like a modern-day pharmacist) w/ the dream of becoming a doctor. He becomes engaged to Maral (Angela Sarafyan)- a woman w/ wealth in his community. We see that he’s NOT in love with Maral, BUT he needs her dowry (400 gold coins) to finance med school. As their parents hope, maybe love will come later?
Once Mikael begins school in the big city (Constantinople) in 1914, he makes friends w/ Emre (Marwan Kenzari)- a jovial, world-traveling “party boy” who’d rather flirt than study. Emre’s father is a big shot (pasha), who’s NOT amused by his son’s behavior, which includes hanging w/ foreigners. Emre is a Turkish Muslim male who has privilege in this society.
In his uncle’s house, Mikael meets Ana Khesarian (Charlotte Le Bon), a beautiful dancer-turned-teacher to his cute young nieces. Ana is living w/ Chris Myers (Christian Bale), a famous/hard-drinking American reporter for the AP. She met him after the sudden death of her musician father in Paris. Ana has a French accent (b/c she grew up mainly in Paris), BUT also a an affinity for her people- the Armenians. While Chris is busy covering the growing tension between the Turks and Armenians, Ana and Mikael begin falling in love. After all, they’re of similar ages, personalities, and have a shared heritage. And also b/c Hollywood MUST put a love story in the middle of (almost) every movie!
Isaac is one of my fave actors; NOT only does he have GREAT hair (hey, it’s true), he has the range to pull-off MANY different types of characters. With Mikael, he creates a wide-eyed, goodhearted, yet (quietly) passionate young man who yearns to know more and contribute to his corner of the world. Bale does a good job- he’s the privileged American (outsider) who is a witness to history. He sends the story out to the wider world. It was a nice surprise to see some strong (veteran) actors in the cast: Shohreh Agdashloo, James Cromwell, and Jean Reno.
The Promise looks and feels like a big budget film; there is some gorgeous cinematography. There are moments of intense sadness and acts of bravery (incl. by characters who DO NOT use guns), which take the film to the epic scale. I recommend the film, BUT it wasn’t as GREAT as I’d expected. Yes, it was emotional, BUT I wanted more backstory (history/politics) and characterization.