It’s safe to say The Promise tackles some harsh historical events. More than a century after the staggering horrors took place, The Armenian Genocide is still a lightning rod of controversy. Reasonable people, by and large, acknowledge that it happened and that justice still needs to be sought for the systematic extermination of over one million Armenians by the Turkish ruling group of the Ottoman Empire.
To this day, both Turkey and Azerbaijan – involved in its own conflict with Armenia – pursue an official policy of denial. In the case of Turkey, now lapsing into dictatorship, threaten and buy off politicians to prevent worldwide recognition. Disgracefully, both Westminster and Washington refuse to officially acknowledge the events of 1914-15 as genocide, despite regional assemblies in those countries decrying it as a heinous war crime.
So, it was no surprise than when The Promise – the new star-laden production about the genocide – was about to be released, it became the victim of a co-ordinated smear campaign. After less than a handful of preview screenings in the U.S, a flood of online reviews on IMDB, from outside the States, cast the film in a negative light.
Clearly, something was amiss, particularly troubling when you consider the increasingly disturbing political situation in Turkey.
The film itself, while being far superior to the increasingly cynical looking The Zookeeper’s Wife, does suffer from something of the same problem; a lack of focus.
Director Terry George – who directed the incredible Hotel Rwanda – gets in a muddle between the horrors of the genocide and a convoluted love triangle with the three main characters: Medical student Mikael (Oscar Isaac), Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) and American journalist Christopher (Christian Bale).
Coupled with the soft lens and the ropey accents (my current pet peeve) the film loses the dramatic and emotional gut punch of films such as The Killing Fields (an outstanding film about the horrors of the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia).
Nevertheless, George and his outstanding cast deliver a generally satisfying and solidly made piece of work that is historically accurate and feels epic in its scale that recalls Lawrence of Arabia. Isaac in particular, produces an excellent performance at the centre of the film along with Marwin Kenzani in an excellent supporting role as Mikael’s best friend, Turkish nobleman Emre. The story of both men are caught up on opposite sides of the escalating horrors is arguably a more powerful relationship than the one we are left with.
While things do flounder in places with the unconvincing love story, Armenian-American executive producer Kirk Kerkorian can be more than satisfied with a film that does its job of telling the story of one of the twentieth century’s forgotten crimes.
A crime against humanity that provides us all with a timely reminder of the complexities of international relations in Eastern Europe – Western Asia. The Promise should urge us to remain understanding and vigilant amongst the push for hasty, ignorant, Western-driven resolutions to age-old political questions in the region.