So… a fictional story set around a non-fictional event. Interesting. To my understanding, this is a romance triangle movie set during several points in time, like during the start of the Armenian Genocide in 1915 and then at the beginning of World War I. Most of this information is ripped from Wikipedia and I hesitate to believe everything I read there. Not a fan of the romantic triangle though. I mean, I have a hard time believing that anything could be as remotely bad as Twilight, which killed this bullshit sub-genre of romance for me, but someone’s always more of an asshole than the other and yet the story will always make it out like the one caught in the middle can’t pick between the two.
Well, no matter what, I know I’m gonna be pretty bias toward the cast, so let’s get to the mentionings and possible gushings. Christian Bale (KNIGHT OF CUPS , THE BIG SHORT , TERMINATOR SALVATION , and upcoming film THE JUNGLE BOOK ), arguably my favorite actor in the film. Despite certain incidents in his career, I think he’s a reliably amazing actor in anything that he’s done. I know his record isn’t spotless, but even in his worst movies, it’s never bad because of him. I know I’ll love him here, no matter what the reviews say. Next, climbing the ladder of must-see actors is Oscar Isaac (X-MEN: APOCALYPSE , STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS , INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS , and the upcoming STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI ). Talk about charisma. This guy could sell water to a fish. I know his mainstream popularity is only just now taking off, and a lot of his films pre-2015 are only known by a few, but here’s hoping he continues to get great work under his belt. Arguably the most underrated actress in my nonexistent-list of favorite actresses working today, Charlotte Le Bon (ANTHROPOID , THE WALK , and THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY ). Ever since HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY, this woman has completely drawn me in. Aside from being impossibly beautiful, she’s got just as much charisma and charm as any of her male counterparts. She commands the screen with her innocent features, soft-spoken voice, she is a rising treasure whose work should be more prominent. Granted, she’s still a fresh face, having only been in a handful of films since 2010, and even fewer are known by American audiences, like Isaac, here’s hoping she gets more and even better work so that her name becomes household. Last, but certainly not least, Shohreh Aghdashloo (STAR TREK BEYOND , THE LAKE HOUSE , and video games MASS EFFECT 2  and MASS EFFECT 3 ). Once again, an actress I often overlook when naming my favorites, I couldn’t even properly explain why I love her work so much. Well… being in one of my favorite video game franchises certainly boosts her “cool” levels to the roof, but more than that, I have never seen a movie with her in it that didn’t benefit from her mere presence. She has this elegance and grace whenever she’s on screen and even though it’s sometimes hard to understand her through her Iranian accent sometimes, she’s a tremendous actress, whether she’s showing her face in a movie, or lending her voice to another project.
Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing is Terry George, known for HOTEL RWANDA (2004) and HART’S WAR (2002). His partner-in-pen is Robin Swicord, known for THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008), PRACTICAL MAGIC (1998), and MATILDA (1996). Composing the music is Gabriel Yared, known for AMELIA (2009), 1408 (2007), and COLD MOUNTAIN (2003). Finally, the cinematographer is Javier Aguirresoarobe, known for THE FINEST HOURS (2016), THE ROAD (2009), and THE OTHERS (2001).
Overall, I don’t know how bad this movie could be, what with its less than positive reviews so far. Maybe a few historic inaccuracies, or cultural misrepresentations, you know, the things I wouldn’t know about. So maybe I’ll be in the minority for liking the movie for what it is. Lets find out.
This is my honest opinion of: THE PROMISE
Set around and during the Armenian Genocide. Mikael (Oscar Isaac) is a medical practitioner, and after marrying into a wealthy family in his village, the dowry was enough to pay his way to a prestigious medical school. While living with his wealthy uncle, Mikael soon meets Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), a woman involved with an American journalist named Chris (Christian Bale), who is reporting on the escalating conflict in the Ottoman Empire. But as the Armenian people get rounded up, soon begins a struggle for survival for Mikael as he tries to reunite and protect his family from the ensuing bloodshed.
Alright, so before I get into this review, some background on me for those of you not in the know. I am uncultured swine. I was a piss-poor student in school and if you wanted to know what subjects I failed the hardest in, it’d be history. So I didn’t know anything about the Armenian Genocide in school… or maybe I did and didn’t pay attention. Who knows? I’m pretty sure I was at least aware that it happened, but didn’t know any particulars. With this in mind, I ask for some understanding for why I don’t share much of the outrage that is directed at this film. This was probably the most insightful source into this moment in history that I’ve been privy to, which may not be saying much since, you know, Hollywood’s creative liberties and such.
As for what I think of this film, yeah, it’s not good. You can list the historical and cultural inaccuracies in the comments, but I’m going to dive into the story itself, which is the main fault that hurts the movie.
It’s probably a good idea to address that, even though I’m not a historian, even I can tell you that this movie doesn’t do the best of jobs letting you know what exactly the Armenian Genocide was, other than a bare-bone basic “The Ottomans killed a bunch of Armenians.” None of the politics or reasons why. I think with even the less-than-dollar-tree-worth research I did on Wikipedia, the movie barely mentions the more historically important moments of that time, like the death marches to Syria, or anything involving concentration camps. From memory, there’s only one scene where you see Chris looking on a small death march where… you know, I’m not entirely sure what happened. A mother and a daughter fall behind the group and the mother is murdered by an Ottoman soldier and the daughter is forced to leave the mother behind and rejoin the group of marchers, resulting in soldiers seeing Chris and a chase scene ensues. If you’re going to tackle a subject as touchy as the Armenian Genocide, you need to show the Armenian Genocide. You can’t gingerly tell us something that happened. If you want audiences to feel the outrage and weight that the Armenian people are still feeling even to this day, you have to give us a reason. A few deaths and a microscopic death march isn’t enough to get our blood boiling.
Now, this may have been forgivable to a certain extent if the romance triangle, the very heart of the film, was truly powerful and compelling. It is not. In fact, the true insult of the film, storywise that is, is giving these wonderfully talented actors a set of characters that are only just better than Twilight’s. Yeah, it’s that boring and even frustrating. Remember above when I said that romance triangles are never to rarely done right? The very meat of them should be that whichever character is caught between two romantic interests has to have an equal amount of and differing reasons to be attracted to each interest; IE, the audience has to like both interests as well, and the one caught in the middle has to be charming enough to warrant the affections of both interests as well. However, they go about as cliché as you can possibly go with it.
Let’s start with our “middle”: Ana. She’s almost too perfect. She dances and teaches children to dance and protects them in times of conflict. She’s passive and doesn’t like violence. She’s almost always smiling, laughing, and offering support to the men who love her, even at a cost to her. She hasn’t a flaw. Christ, slap on a pair of wings and a halo and Ana’s character will suddenly make a little more sense. In fact, she’s so unbelievably perfect that you’re sitting there wondering, “Why stop at two men?” Why doesn’t Ana have a line of men and women behind her wooing her for her hand in marriage? You see what I’m getting at? She’s so angelic and flawless that she is beyond uninteresting.
How about the two men vying for her? Are they any charming or better? No! Mikael is almost exactly the same as Ana. He’s too perfect. He’s a medical student. He’s loyal to his family. He avoids conflict. He’s a devoted family man. Oh my god, if Ana’s an angel in disguise, then just call Mikael “Jesus.” It’s the same damn perfection that’s beyond stale. It’s not even a different kind of bland either.
But in order to talk about the final nail in the coffin, let’s bring out our final man: Chris. At this point, Christ ought to be just as perfect as both Ana and Mikael because then we’d get real uncertainty over who Ana would eventually pick to pursue. It’d be boring and there wouldn’t be any suspense over the choice she’d make, nor would we truly care about the guy who got cock-blocked, but we’d at least be able to claim that we wouldn’t have been able to predict the outcome. Instead, we get an immediate knowledge on how this romance will end: he’s a bearded brute who is politically charged and will not shut the hell up about “The people must know!” Seriously, do reporters really sound like that? But here’s the kicker. You ready for this? Ana suffered a personal tragedy in the past and it was Chris that helped her though it. “I don’t know what would have happened if Chris wasn’t there.” And yet from how inattentive he is toward her throughout the film, you’d think that he was there at the time of her tragedy to interview her about what happened and she mistook the interview for a date or something and he just rolled with it because, you know, hot French chick. About the only time he does pay any real attention to her and show any affection is when she’s in direct trouble. But of course, we can’t have a triangle without a dick-measuring contest and Chris is certainly ready to challenge Mikael any time they share the screen together.
And that’s the problem with this triangle. I had the resolution to this crap pegged the moment the triangle was formed: Chris is going to be too macho at some point and Ana’s going to choose Mikael because they’re too damn perfect for each other. At no point do we see Chris at his most romantic toward Ana. Sure, she looks pretty and has her arm wrapped around his some times, but that’s not romantic. That’s plot-device, and not a very good one either. Of course that’s how it’s going to end up because… clever writing: What’s that?
The sad truth is that there could have been a great movie here. If the creators wanted to use this romance as a vehicle to guide the audience through these unimaginably barbaric and tragic events, a much more clever writer could have made that work. Maybe, like, a Ottoman soldier fell in love with an Armenian woman and he’s torn between his political family over the woman that he loves… eh, okay, that wouldn’t have been good, so maybe a romance movie during a GENOCIDE isn’t the best story idea! It’s pretty disrespectful toward millions of men, women, and children that brutally and pointlessly lost their lives. It’s basically saying, “Surely two men fighting over a woman is more powerful and interesting than the Armenian Genocide.” If you wanted to create a story about two men fighting over a woman, that’s great. Watch THIS MEANS WAR (2012) with Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hardy, and Chris Pine. It’s enjoyable and leaves out the senseless deaths of people who deserved to have their story told in a tasteful and informative way. And I’m sure there’s plenty of smarter people who have seen this movie and have much better things to point out as to why this movie is bad. Look, I’m not Armenian. Maybe if you are, you could watch this movie and get something out of it. Hell, the auditorium I went into was packed and got a round of applause when the credits started rolling. But for me, there has to be better movies made about this subject matter and did it more poignantly and had real justification for existing. While I do love the core actors, it’s not enough to truly save the movie as a whole. It clearly means well enough, I mean it’s obvious that it’s not trying to say anything bad directly about the Armenian Genocide, but it’s focus isn’t where it should be. I can’t recommend this to anyone, not even a rental in the future. This is a pass, even if you’re a fan of the talent like I am, which is heart-breaking enough as it is. I hope this flies over the radar and doesn’t affect anyone involved in this project because everyone here deserved better.
My honest rating for THE PROMISE: 2/5