“The Promise,” releasing on Friday, April 21, has worthy intentions, but a slow pace and many extraneous scenes of traversing landscapes and climbing mountains, along with a morally questionable love triangle, hamper the telling of an important story — the Armenian Genocide in Turkey (a charge the Turks vehemently deny).
The story places three fictional characters — two Armenian Christians: an apothecary/medical student (Oscar Isaac) named Mikael, and a French-accented expatriate (Charlotte Le Bon) named Ana — and American reporter Chris Myers (Christian Bale). against the backdrop of the horrific events during World War I.
Myers and Ana are an unmarried romantic couple, and Mikael is betrothed to a girl back home, whose family is bankrolling his medical studies in Constantinople (now Istanbul).
While heroically covering the slaughter of Armenians by Turkish troops, Myers is also a long-suffering cuckolded boyfriend, since Ana betrays him with Mikael, who, in turn, betrays his betrothed with her. And, as a cherry on top, Mikael and Ana sit in a Christian cathedral, holding hands while listening to a monk sing sacred music.
So, in an unforced error, Christianity takes a moral hit. At the same time, though, the brutal excesses of the Ottoman Turks are unflinchingly portrayed — while their Islamic faith is noticeably downplayed. There is also a fourth fictional character, a young Muslim Turk, a friend of Mikael from medical school, who winds up being heroic.
Fortunately, there are also Christian clergy portrayed as heroes, trying to save Armenian orphans from wanton slaughter (and even the French get a big moment at the end).
“The Promise” could have easily been a half-hour shorter, and one wishes the Christian characters took teachings on sexual morality more seriously, but still, this is a overlooked episode of 20th Century history that deserves to be dramatized.
It’s rated PG-13. While there isn’t overt sexual content (it’s implied rather than graphically shown), there is a lot of suffering and wartime violence portrayed, so it’s not necessarily a film for the whole family.
Images: Open Road Films
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