A love triangle is set against the horrors of the 1915 Armenian genocide, in which there was widespread killing of Armenians that the Turkish government still refuses to acknowledge. In “The Promise,” directed by Terry George from a screenplay that he wrote with Robin Swicord, we are eased into the ultimate catastrophe with the story involving the lead characters.
Oscar Isaac is cast as Michael, an Armenian apothecary, who promises to wed Marai, a village girl, in order to get a dowry that will enable him to study medicine. He is warned by his mother not to marry for money. He doesn’t listen.
But when he meets the glamorous, sophisticated Ana, played by Charlotte Le Bon, Michael is smitten. Yet the promise he made is a matter of honor. There are further complications. Ana is involved with Chris, an American photo-journalist played by Christian Bale.
The triangle could stand on its own as enough of a drama, but the film’s main purpose would appear to ultimately to expose the genocide, and the screenplay drags the principals into it with serious consequences. The strongest moments of the film are the atrocities we witness, and the larger picture competes with the more intimate part of the narrative.
This is hardly a film to please the Turkish government, given the effort to bury the truth of what happened and what has been documented. “The Promise” has a broad sweep to it, with considerable action and intricate plot developments involving an assortment of characters.
The film benefits from its appealing lead performers, as well as from the cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe. Yet one may come away wondering about the balance between the personal stories and the much more important historical crime against humanity. Reviewed November 21, 2016.