There is no shortage of films on the Armenian Genocide. 20 documentary films since 1945. 15 feature movies prior to The Promise from writer/director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda, Reservation Road). However, given the refusal of the government of Turkey to recognize the Armenian Genocide over a century later, the issue is important enough to warrant another feature telling the tale.
“Mikael” (Oscar Isaac – 10 Years) is an apothecary who wants to attend medical school more than anything. To fund this venture, he commits to marry the daughter of a wealthy man who lives nearby. 400 gold coins later he is off to begin his education as a doctor in Constantinople.
Once he is enrolled he befriends “Emre” (Marwan Kenzari – Ben-Hur), whose father is an official in the Turkish government. His wealthy uncle “Mesrob” (Igal Naor – Munich) welcomes Mikael into his home. He also introduces him to “Ana” (Charlotte Le Bon – Anthropoid), an Armenian woman who works teaching the children of Mesrob. Mikael falls under her spell almost instantly, but his betrothal to “Maral” (Angela Sarafyan – The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn 2) is something he feels bound by. It doesn’t help that Ana is involved with the American journalist “Chris Meyers” (Christian Bale – The Big Short). Welcome to the love triangle that is the backdrop for the horrors of what the Armenian people suffered through beginning in late April of 1915.
Mikael is able to avoid being drafted into the Turkish military through a medical deferment that Emre helps him to get. He tries to intervene when his uncle is being dragged off to prison. As a result, he is imprisoned himself. He manages to escape and returns home, only to discover that most of his village’s Armenian residents have been victimized. His parents have survived and they press upon him the importance of marrying Maral. The newlyweds hide in a remote location but are forced to return to the home of his parents when Maral’s pregnancy becomes challenging. Knowing that the Turks are going to hit the village soon, Mikael goes looking for Chris and Ana to try to save his family.
While sharp and pleasing on a visual level, most of the talented cast delivers relatively pedestrian performances. Considering that Terry George completely rewrote the original screenplay by Robin Swicord, one wonders if something was lost in translation. The exceptions are Oscar Isaacs and Christian Bale, who seem superb in any movie. James Cromwell is good in his all-too brief appearance as Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, Sr. As with Schindler’s List, Life is Beautiful and other films based on horrific events, some of what is on the screen is disquieting. On the other hand, historians who are experts in the events of the Armenian Genocide point out that the film is a very accurate depiction of what actually went on during this critical time in history; as relates to the genocide and suffering of the Armenian people.