OPEN ROAD FILMS / UNIVERSAL STUDIOS (2017)
Director: Terry George
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale, Angela Sarafyan, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Rade Šerbedžija
“…in an attempt to wipe our nation from the face of the earth, we're still here.”
A controversial movie that has taken generations to bring to the big screen, The Promise sheds light on the Armenian Genocide perpetuated by the crumbling Ottoman Empire during World War I. In the throes of the Great War, over one million Armenians were terminated in the first act of mass murder and genocide of the 20th century.
Though there are many who will deny that this ever happened – it did.
The movie follows three key players – aspiring medical student Mikael Boghosian (Isaac), American reporter Chris Myers (Bale) and his Armenian wife Ana (Le Bon) – as their lives become entangled by the mutual love for Ana shared by the two men. Mikael is betrothed to an Armenian wife, Maral (Angela Sarafyan), and the dowry received from her family has paid for his medical studies in Constantinople. It’s there that he meets Ana, who is working as a teacher at Mikael’s uncle Mesrob’s (Yigal Naor) residence teaching Mesrob’s daughters Yeva (Milene Mayer) and Tamar (Lucía Zorrilla) to dance. Her husband, Chris, is a renowned reporter for the Associated Press who, between drinking and insulting German soldiers, begins to report on the brutal treatment of the Armenians by the Turkish, something that isn’t received well by the Ottoman Empire and General Faruk Pasha (Tamer Hassan). When the Ottoman Empire joins the War in 1915, the persecution and executions begin.
The movie interchanges between Constantinople and Armenia with war and duty separating the trio as they are forced along different paths – Mikael must return to Armenia undetected to save his family, Ana attempts to ferry orphans to safer lands and Chris is embroiled in journalistic disagreements with the Empire. In between, romantic liaisons begin to drive a wedge between Ana and Chris, and the promise Mikael kept to Maral that he would return weighs heavily on his shoulders as the torture and murder of Armenian’s rages on around him.
Standing out above the rest, Oscar Isaac gives a performance full of humanity and emotion. Acting as our guide through the atrocities, we get to undertake his journey of mind, body and soul alongside him. To portray grief and suffering is a tough act, however Isaac manages to capture pain in his performance. Le Bon and Bale are undeniably reliable in their roles, offering everything from warmth to sadness and everything in between. Marwen Kenzari is sublime as the tragic Lieutenant Ogan, a man caught between family, friend and his country. Small but important cameos from James Cromwell and Jean Reno are also weaved in.
The beautiful visuals and cinematography are bought to life by the talents of Javier Aguirresarobe (of The Road, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and…Twilight fame) Striking sunsets cover vast sprawling lands and cover the screen with orange and beiges galore juxtaposed against the darker, grey painted scenes of trauma and suffering. In one scene before the climactic battle, the sky above is a delightful blend of red, orange and blue – the national colours of Armenia.
The love triangle plot falters during the movie I found, the chemistry didn’t sparkle and it wasn’t as compelling as it perhaps should’ve been. The movie was at its strongest, however, during scenes of battle, loss and emotional suffering. The cast managed to invoke strong performances required to capture the horror of the on-screen imagery – whether it be an innocent, injured Armenian woman shot through the head for being stricken or the shocking shallow grave scene by the riverside, nobody can be let down by the harsh images or solid work from the cast.
The Armenian Genocide is a story that has been brushed aside, or at least attempted to be, for too long and in The Promise, the harsh realities can now be seen by a wider audience. It’s an important movie for history, and if we ignore the past then we risk repeating it in the future.
August 8th 2017