With films like “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Anthropoid” as well as the upcoming “Dunkirk” and “13 Minutes,” it would appear that war films are back on the rise again. The writer and director of “Hotel Rwanda,” Terry George, is now part of that list with a story that is off the beaten path a bit but needs to be told as the backdrop of “The Promise”.
World War I is in full swing and the Ottoman Empire is approaching what history will tell is their end. Mikael Pogosian (Oscar Isaac) is an Armenian who betroths himself to a young woman, Maral (“Westworld” cast member Angela Sarafyan), using the dowry to pay his way through medical school in Constantinople. While he is away, he meets and falls in love with Ana (Charlotte Le Bon, also in “Anthropoid”), who is also spoken for by an American journalist named Chris Myers (Christian Bale). As war erupts in their land and the Turks begin their systematic attempt at removing the Armenians from the planet, the lives of these three take twists and turns, intertwining at various points.
One would think that a two-hour and fifteen-minute drama about romance and war would wind up being daunting and weighed down, but “The Promise” really and wonderfully is not. While there is a lot of story that is told here, it is done in a very engaging way and works its way into actual historical events in a very emotionally impactful way. Isaac and Le Bon have great chemistry, and as odd as this is going to seem, their love story seemed a bit rushed here. I would have liked to see this thread play itself out just a bit more, even to the point of an even balance with the thread of the painfully beautiful dynamic between Ana and Chris (which I thought was just about perfect in its detail to keep the story moving). Bale in particular shines here in a role that is not huge but really gives him the opportunity to show something besides the action hero or snobby self-absorbed egoist that he seems to have fallen into. There is also a couple of great appearances (albeit brief) from James Cromwell and Jean Reno as well that accompany some wonderful cinematography work by Javier Aguirresarobe that kept me focused and engaged to this film.
I have seen some detractors in the critic community, but in this case I just don’t seem to understand it. “The Promise” is not one of those films that may take the world by storm or unfortunately will appeal to a larger audience, but by the same token it is a film that will find its audience which will hopefully lead to some larger success. It can also serve as a catalyst for conversations about the tragedies that cost over 1.5 million Armenians their lives in a story that needs to have more attention paid to it.