The Promise, review: ‘Oscar Isaac is good but Bale falls back on being intense’

PUBLISHED: 12:36 24 April 2017

Oscar Isaac in The Promise. PictureL Jose Haro

Oscar Isaac in The Promise. PictureL Jose Haro

Archant

The Armeian Genocide deserves a better film but The Promise is the one it’s got and it may be enough

The Armenian Genocide is famous for being the one that everybody forgot. Crimes against humanity don’t really register until they have a major film made about them and though there have been other films (The Cut, Ararat) this is its film. It deserves a better film but The Promise is the one it’s got and it may be enough.

This follows the traditional approach to constructing a narrative about momentous, historic events – its slaps a love triangle over it. In 1915, an Armenian apothecary (Oscar Isaac) arrives in Constantinople to study medicine, just as Germany is prompting Turkey to ally with them in the Great War, and take the opportunity to rid themselves of traitorous infidels, the minority Orthodox Christian Armenians.

Reporting this back to the West is American journalist Christian Bale, while Charlotte Le Bon is the romantic ping pong ball bouncing between them.

Isaac is actually rather good, but Bale falls back on being very, very intense. Much like his performance, the film takes itself too seriously but it doesn’t really have a hook on the material. For example, the title. The Promise is very dull.

So you assume that this promise must be at the very centre of the drama, that it will be made in the first act and, after much struggle and endurance, will be kept (or broken) somewhere near the end. But actually the promise is almost incidental to the plot.

It’s fine to try and make a David Lean style historical epic but you really need to have a David Lean style budget for it, not have characters living in an opulent Constantinople mansion, overlooking a CGI rendering of the Bosporus. You’ also need a romance that seems based on passion rather than narrative convenience.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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