Stipulated: The Armenian genocide, in which some 1.5 million Armenians were murdered by the Ottoman government (we call it Turkey now) between 1915 and 1922, is underrepresented in history books and in popular culture. Among 20th-century holocausts, it takes a backseat to the capital-H one in terms of size, scope, and worldwide societal impact. More storytellers should turn their attention to the unreported tales of tragedy, bravery, and humanity from that dark era that are waiting to be told.
That being said, those storytellers will need to do better than “The Promise,” a respectable but middling film that bites off more than it can chew and can’t deliver the emotional payload it strives for. Perhaps overwhelmed by the near absence of movies on this subject, director Terry George (who covered a different genocide in “Hotel Rwanda”) and co-writer Robin Swicord try to include everything — a love triangle, a prison-camp escape, political intrigue, a ragtag army of refugees, commentary on the horrors of war — and as a result don’t do any of it particularly well (though they don’t do any of it badly, either).
We begin in 1913 in a small Armenian village, where penniless young scholar Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac) agrees to marry Maral (Angela Sarafyan) at some point in the future so he can use the dowry to attend medical school in Constantinople now. In the big city, he befriends fellow student Emre (Marwan Kenzari), the son of a Turkish bigwig, and Ana Khesarian (Charlotte Le Bon), another Armenian. He also meets Ana’s American boyfriend, Chris Myers (Christian Bale), a journalist for the Associated Press.
When the Turks enter World War I and local anti-Armenian sentiment reaches a fever pitch (the film doesn’t get into the long-simmering issues at play there beyond the Muslim-vs-Christian factor), Emre helps Mikael get a student deferment. It doesn’t last, though, and Mikael finds himself in a brutal labor camp, and then on the run, and then back in Armenia, where for his own safety he must marry his betrothed and forget about Ana, with whom he has fallen in love.
[Continue reading at Crooked Scoreboard.]
B- (2 hrs., 12 min.; )