Susan Granger’s review of “The Promise” (Open Road Films/Survivor Pictures)
Because of strong ties with the Turkish government, American presidents have never acknowledged the Ottoman Empire’s systematic annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1918 as “genocide.”
So this sprawling, historical epic begins in 1914 as Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac), an ambitious, young apothecary in Siroun, a small southern Turkish village, is betrothed a local girl so he can use her dowry to attend medical school in Constantinople, promising to marry her once he’s a doctor.
In cosmopolitan Constantinople (now Istanbul), naïve Mikael moves in with his father’s cousin, a local merchant, and meets vivacious, Paris-educated Ana Kasabian (Charlotte Le Bon), who is tutoring his nieces. Since Ana lives with an angry American journalist, Chris Myers (Christian Bale), an ill-fated romantic triangle takes shape.
When Ottoman Turks enter World War I as allies of Germany, a classmate’s bribe gets Mikael a medical school deferment. But when anti-Armenian violence erupts, he’s sent to forced labor on the railroad.
When Mikael escapes, he returns to war-ravaged Siroun, reluctantly marries his fiancée, then hides in a mountain cabin. Meanwhile, inquisitive Chris Myers is chronicling the atrocities inflicted on the Armenian population, dispatching them to American newspapers via the Associated Press.
By this time, the contrived romantic rivalry subplot should be on a back burner. Unfortunately, it isn’t. So the real-life slaughter is trivialized into an awkward, overtly manipulative melodrama.
Weakly scripted by Robin Swicord (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) and director Terry George (“Hotel Rwanda”), it was financed by the late Armenian entrepreneur Kirk Kerkorian – with a distinguished supporting cast: Shohreh Aghdashloo, Jean Reno, James Cromwell, Rede Serbedzija and Angela Sarafyan.
Since the film’s inception, there’s been controversy. “The genocide is burned into the soul of the Armenian diaspora,” explains Terry George “And until they get some kind of recognition, it’s not going to go away.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Promise” is an earnestly solemn 6. But it loses its focus, diluting the emotional impact of the harrowing massacre.