Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale and Charlotte Le Bon are caught up in a love triangle against the backdrop of the Armenian Genocide.
It's not surprising that barely any directors want to depict The Armenian Genocide onscreen, it is a controversial topic because many countries’ leaders refuse to classify the systematic killings of more than a million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as a genocide.
Not Irish director Terry George however (who has already handled another genocide in Hotel Rwanda), andThe Promise sheds light on the genocide, which roughly took place between 1915 to 1923, but uses it as a backdrop to a love triangle to make the harsh reality more digestible and to give viewers characters to invest in.
Oscar Isaac plays Mikael, an Armenian who goes to Ottoman Empire, Constantinople to study medicine with a dowry he receives for promising to marry a fellow villager upon his return.
However, while in Constantinople, he meets Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), an Armenian who was raised in Paris, and they develop feelings for each other, although she is in a relationship with American Associated Press reporter Chris (Christian Bale).
Their burgeoning relationship is sidelined when Armenians are rounded up and either detained, killed or 'relocated'.
Mikael is captured, but manages to escape from his labour camp and return to his home village, where he becomes torn between his duty to his promised wife and Ana.
The film is ambitious and aims to be a sweeping romantic epic, with the three players in the love triangle reunited, separated, then reunited again in a multitude of locations. This slows the pacing of the movie and makes it feel much longer than it is.
The love story is supposed to help viewers feel more emotionally connected to the horrific events but it is actually distracting.
The romance between Mikael and Ana never feels entirely convincing and it’s hard for the viewer to care whether they ended up together or not.
Isaac’s performance is rather melodramatic, overplaying the emotion, while Le Bon is charming and the heart of the film. Bale puts in the most convincing and subtly powerful performance as the jilted party who is also being persecuted for reporting the crimes.
It’s a shame so much of the film's focus is on the love triangle, because the treatment of Armenians as a whole was far more important, hard-hitting and fascinating from a historical perspective.
Towards the end, viewers get more of a picture of the scale of the genocide and how many people it affected, especially when Ana tries to help orphaned children flee the country, but the romance had taken up so much time and concentration by that point that these scenes did not pack the emotional punch they deserved.
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