Terry George’s “The Promise” is the newest great film epic thats falls somewhere along the lines of “Doctor Zhivago.” Although in some aspects the film succeeds in capturing the spirit of a classic blockbuster, it falls short elsewhere.
Although the film is shot beautifully with a story worthy of exploring and strong performances by each actor, a dull love triangle is intertwined into a plot that could have been a standout.
“The Promise” shares the little-known story of the 8-year Armenian genocide that began in 1915 and killed more than 1.5 million people. The story centers around three people at the heart of an international conflict and how they deal with the mass murder of over one million of their kin. This tribute to those killed in the conflict is moving and the topic is surely worth further investigation.
From indie films such as “Inside Llewyn Davis” to the blockbuster “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” to television drama “Show Me a Hero,” Oscar Isaac, who plays the main love interest, has become one of Hollywood’s most impressive young actors. Isaac gave another great performance as Mikael, a young Armenian man who travels from the Turkish Empire to Constantinople in hopes of becoming a doctor.
Mikael does well in medical school, but soon finds himself fighting for his life in a labor camp just before the start World War I. After reuniting with his parents in their village, Mikael is forced to marry a stranger from a wealthy family in order to preserve his life and his freedom. Unfortunately, for Mikael, this meant that he had to give up his true love.
While away in Istanbul, Mikael had fallen in love with an Armenian woman named Ana, played by Charlotte Le Bon. Although she is fond of him, Ana was already involved with an American journalist named Christian Myers, played by Christian Bale.
Christian is seemingly an honorable man that that cares about Ana, but it’s clear that his job and cause take precedence over the relationship. This leads viewers to the film’s biggest problem: Our lovers aren’t that interesting, at least when they’re together.
Although Isaac and Le Bon both give strong individual performances, their chemistry is missing. There isn’t much to their love story other than all the overused tropes that moviegoers have seen a million times before.
While the romance is boring, it’s hard not to admire “The Promise” on a technical level. The sets, cinematography and sound design are all topnotch for the most part, amounting to several genuinely intense sequences. Panoramic views of countryside sunsets are seamlessly followed by dramatic battle scenes. Aside from a couple cheap green-screen effects, George turns in a polished product that creates a true sense of doom.
Although the love story does not seem overly forced, it does seem to dominate the movie. At some points, the lovers hold too much screen time, leaving the war to sit and wait in the background. If the love triangle was eliminated, the runtime would’ve been cut by around 20 minutes.
Is it worth taking the good with the bad, though? Considering the film as a whole, yes, but don’t expect to see “The Promise” raking in awards come later this year.