Terry George’s epic historical drama The Promise is set during World War I and offers a dire, yet engrossing, snapshot of how the Armenian population in Turkey suffered at the hands of the Ottoman government. This example of genocide, in which purportedly 1.5 million Armenians were exterminated, may be unfamiliar to many and is even today not recognised by some, most notably the successive Turkish Government. Amidst the broader controversy that surround the film however, including alleged politically motivated IMDB down-voting, the story itself carries enough drama and pathos to keep audiences engaged and involved in the unfolding drama between the characters and broader chaos surrounding them.
Like many historical dramas before it, writers George and Robin Swicord deemed it necessary to insert a love triangle in the narrative to make it more palpable for audiences. And like most historical dramas that have followed this formula, from Titanic to Pearl Harbor, the results are mixed. The first half of the film spends a lot of time setting up the sweet but largely predictable romance between the earnest and respectable Mikael (Oscar Isaac), an Armenian apothecary who moves to Constantinople to stay at his Uncle’s home to study medicine, and the beautiful French-educated Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), a tutor who is educating his young nieces. Despite being in a relationship with gruff American Associated Press journalist Chris Myers (Christian Bale), Mikael and Ana are drawn to each other.
While the acting by all three is convincing, the usual ups and downs of the triangle that props up throughout the several-year narrative pales in comparison to the second half of the film, which shifts gears towards the dire consequences for the people and families during the round-ups and killings of Armenians. This part of The Promise is stronger and more moving as it picks up its pace and focuses on George’s vision of the film and the main take-away point.
You could dismiss The Promise as just another historical drama with a love triangle in it, but to do so would be a mistake. Sure, it could have worked without the clichéd triangle, but it still works regardless. And the characters’ roles beyond the triangle, concentration camp prisoners and war journalists trying to get the story out, gives them complexity beyond simply the cuckold and cuckolder. Thus, while the film doesn’t create much sizzle with some of its characters’ storylines at times, in terms of bringing to light a sad and confronting part of history which is still controversial today, The Promise effectively delivers.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10