Terry George’s historical drama “The Promise” falls so much in love with its own epic
grandness that its dramatic heart gets lost among sweeping vistas and endless parades of
violent confrontations, tearful reunions and tearful goodbyes, all accompanied by the
somber strings of Gabriel Yared’s torpid score.
Set during the last days of the Ottoman Empire, The Promise follows a love triangle
between Michael, a brilliant medical student, the beautiful and sophisticated Ana, and
Chris – a renowned American journalist based in Paris.
“The Promise” depicts a standard-issue love triangle set against the 1915-1917 Armenian
genocide, the Ottoman government’s extermination of 1.5 million Armenians.
Young Armenian Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac) narrates the story before setting out in
1914 to become a doctor. He agrees to marry Maral (Angela Sarafyan), daughter of a
wealthy citizen, to gain a dowry he can use to pay for his medical training. Mikael
promises his mother (Shohreh Aghdashloo) he will grow to love Maral. But once in the
big city of Constantinople, Mikael instantly falls for Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), a
French-accented tutor for his uncle’s family. Ana, however, has a thing going with a
fearless Associated Press journalist named Chris Myers (Christian Bale), who relentlessly
reports on the Turks’ increasingly hostile treatment of the Christian minority Armenians.
These scenes seem to be the movie that George and Swicord want to make—brutal and
bleak, with a clear-eyed understanding and communication of the political sentiments that
have lead to this mass murder. The story’s construction, though, is supported entirely by
the tale of Mikael, Ana, and Chris, whose destinies seem wrapped around the notion that
one of these men must end up with the woman.
There are complications, of course—betrayals, lies, sacrifices, the belief that one of the
men is dead. There’s a strange, unfortunate disconnect between the impact of the way
George presents the genocide and the heavily coincidental plot of the love triangle. Such
coincidences end up forming the entire basis of the movie’s third act, as the three are
reunited and a decision, apparently, must be made.
To its credit, the screenplay ultimately finds a way around this decision and realigns the
focus to the notion that are far greater concerns than the romantic feelings of these three
characters. By then, though, it’s too late, and The Promise ends up a well-intentioned
attempt at revealing reality that is undone by misguided priorities.
Overall the movie was a pleasure to watch.