The Promise is set on the brink of the first world war as the Ottoman Empire stands upon its last legs. As Michael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) arrives in the vibrant city of Constantinople (now Istanbul) with the determination of bringing modern medicine with him to his ancestral village in Southern Turkey, he finds that Turkish Muslims and Armenian Christians have lived together for centuries. A photo-journalist by the name of Chris Myers (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight trilogy, The Prestige) has only come to cover the geo-political situation. Chris is mesmerised by Charlotte le Bon’s Ana, an Armenian artist from Paris who’s only just arrived after the sudden death of her father. When Ana and Michael meet, their shared Armenian heritage sparks a romantic attraction and rivalry between the the two men. As the Turks form an alliance with Germany, Turkey turns violent against its own ethnic minorities. The trio are forced to put their feelings aside as they fight for survival.
There’s no doubt that The Promise often veers into a cliche territory that we, as an audience, may have seen multiple times before and there are better historical romances set against the backdrop of war, but the one thing that The Promise does remind us of is the often untouched parts of the war that Hollywood hardly delves into.
Like many films that struggle with story and with the film overall, there’s at least a performance or two that make it somewhat worth it. In this case, it’s in Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale, who continue to prove themselves to be amongst some of the best actors of their generation. The portray a story amongst many against the backdrop of the last days of Constantinople though the story hardly ever feels as epic as it tries to be. Co-writer and Director of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ fame Terry George does try his best but it’s no cigar. Story isn’t enough and all the technical elements can only do so much to bolster something that just isn’t there in the first place.
The Promise endeavours to educate us in a portion of history but honestly doesn’t take full responsibility for doing so. It barely skirts at the truth, the love triangle more of a hinderance than an aid, though this isn’t something that should be surprising. The film as a whole could barely decide if it was war film or a love story, confirming further that this film just doesn’t know what it is. The Turkish Government still denies the fact that the genocide that happened, despite all the proof. It was like The Promise was afraid to really pull off a confronting look at what happened.