The Promise

 

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Terry George’s sweeping historical epic about the Armenian genocide.

 

Promise, The

Slaughter of the innocent: Charlotte Le Bon with her charges

 

With the imminent fragmentation of Europe, a film about the Armenian refugee crisis could not seem more timely. To this day Turkey refuses to acknowledge its country’s annihilation of the Armenian people a hundred years ago. In fact, it’s illegal even to discuss it in Turkey. Yet the very word ‘genocide’ was coined by the lawyer Raphael Lemkin to describe the atrocities carried out by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923. Terry George’s The Promise, an old-fashioned historical epic moulded into a love triangle, pulls no punches in its depiction of the ritual and brutal slaughter of the country’s ethnic minorities.

 

George, who previously dipped his toes into disturbing historical fact with Some Mother’s Son (1996) and Hotel Rwanda (2004), is said to believe that in response to The Promise, the current Turkish government sponsored the production of a rival film. The latter, the Turkish-American The Ottoman Lieutenant, covers the same period and is also a love triangle, although it did start production half a year earlier. Be that as it may, George’s film has certainly stirred up a hornet’s nest and will no doubt exert even more international pressure on Turkey to acknowledge its sins.

 

One doesn’t come across a historical epic every day, largely because they’re so difficult to mount. The Promise arrives with a muscular budget of $90 million and does capture a sense of time and place, although some of its sea-borne sequences do look like they were filmed in a studio tank. But worthy intentions and scenes of the systematic butchery of defenceless women and children is no guarantee of a good film. Had a director of the artistic vision of, say, Alejandro González Iñárritu, or the late Anthony Minghella, steered the story along its narrative rails it might have registered more genuine emotion. Terry George is, at best, a journeyman director who has got by on incendiary themes and excellent actors.

 

As a sweeping epic, The Promise doesn’t so much sweep as judder, not helped by the inelegant editing of Steven Rosenblum. One suspects that the original film was considerably longer and just an extra thirty minutes might have provided some worthwhile atmosphere and character development. Nonetheless, with actors of the calibre of Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale and Tom Hollander on board, along with the opportune if harrowing subject matter, The Promise is maybe a film one should see.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Rade Šerbedžija, Angela Sarafyan, Armin Amiri, Marwan Kenzari, Yigal Naor, Tom Hollander, Jean Reno, James Cromwell.

 

Dir Terry George, Pro Eric Esrailian, Mike Medavoy and William Horberg, Screenplay Terry George and Robin Swicord, Ph Javier Aguirresarobe, Pro Des Benjamín Fernández, Ed Steven Rosenblum, Music Gabriel Yared, Costumes Pierre-Yves Gayraud.

 

Survival Pictures/Phoenix Pictures-Entertainment One.

132 mins. USA/Spain. 2016. Rel: 28 April 2017. Cert. 12A.