The Promise is directed by Terry George (In The Name of the Father) and stars Oscar Isaac as Mikael Pogosian, an Armenian medical student during the ‘Armenian Genocide’ in World War 1. The film also stars Christian Bale as Christopher Myers, an American journalist tasked with covering the genocide, which claimed the lives of up to 500,000 Armenians from 1914-1918.
While the historical event on which the film is based lends itself to a powerful story, and while the acting from Bale and Isaac is of a standard to be expected from 2 of the biggest actors in Hollywood, a lack of clear storytelling direction from Terry George, and a script which tries to be 4 different movies at once, prevents The Promise from being anything other than a Ben Hur imposter (and no, not the remake).
Within its over-stuffed 132-minute runtime is an attempt to make The Promise a film without a specific genre. It tries to be a character driven story centred around Mikael Pogosian as a persecuted Armenian during the fall of the Ottoman Empire, a love story between Pogosian, Ana (played by Charlotte Le Bon) and Chris Myers, a recounting of different atrocities suffered by the Armenian people told through the perspective of Myers, and a war-time epic in the 3rd act during the events at Musa Dagh.
This lack of clear storytelling focus bogs the film down and prevents its more powerful moments, such as the murder of Armenian refugees by Turkish soldiers, from having the impact they otherwise should have. That is not to say that there are not impactful moments in the film, but the lack of focus on any specific storyline takes away any emotional impact from those moments.
That is a real pity as there is a lot to like with The Promise. The cinematography is, for the most part, superb. The camera captures the natural beauty of the countryside while at other times managing to capture the horror of the atrocities suffered by the Armenian people, especially when Mikael is attempting to rescue prisoners from a train.
The film is anchored more-than-capably by Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac and Charlotte Le Bon. In particular, Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac are tremendous. Isaac continues his rise to Hollywood status with a mature performance as an Armenian man who loses everything in his quest to simply survive the atrocities befalling his people. On top of that, Christian Bale does not disappoint as a journalist who refuses to give up exposing the crimes being committed against the Armenians. Both are tremendous in their roles and come across as sympathetic during their struggles.
The film is very much at its best when it is trying to be a faithful retelling of the Armenian Genocide in 1915. The images of Armenians being arrested and subsequently killed by Turkish soldiers, primarily through the eyes of Myers, is when the film is at its best. Those scenes focusing on the persecution of Armenians give the film its most powerful moments.
Unfortunately, such is the shoddy quality and focus of the script that the impactful storytelling is then bogged down by a love triangle storyline which only serves to degrade the characters of Ana and Mikael while presenting Chris as the hero of the piece, which would not have been the intention when the film was going through post-production.
For the record, this writer is not well-versed enough in the history of the Armenian Genocide to comment on the films historical accuracy.
The Promise is a worthy script away from being a great film. The sequences demonstrating the killing of Armenian people are the most impactful by far. However, a script which tries to be 4 different films at once and direction which results in a film that has no clear focus consigns it to being little more than an average historical drama.
The Promise is out in cinemas nationwide from April 28.