Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Movie Review: "The Promise" (2017)

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Movie: "The Promise"
Director: Terry George
Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 2 hours, 12 minutes

An engaged Armenian apothecary moves to Constantinople to study medicine. Once there, he falls for another woman, who is in a relationship with an American reporter. However, fate steps in as the Turkish Ottoman Empire enters WWI and starts rounding up Armenians for slave labor and execution, tearing them and the rest of their people apart.

"The Promise" is directed by Terry George, who is best known for his films "Hotel Rwanda" and "Reservation Road." He also helped write the screenplay along with Robin Swicord, who was a writer on films like "Memoirs of a Geisha" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." It stars Oscar Isaac as Armenian apothecary Mikael Boghosian, who is able to study medicine in Constantinople after he accepts a dowry to marry a woman from his village named Maral, played by Angela Sarafyan. Joining him is Oscar winner Christian Bale as American journalist Chris Myers, who is introduced to Mikael by his girlfriend Ana Khesarian, played by Charlotte Le Bon, who was born in Mikael's hometown of Siroun, but has been living in France the past few years. Ana and Mikael begin to fall in love despite being involved with other people, but once Turkey joins WWI, all Armenians start to be rounded up to be put in labor camps and for their eventual execution.

This war-time drama wound up being a rather controversial piece of cinema due to its acknowledgment of the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Turkish government. This is a fact which Turkey still denies ever took place despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. "The Promise" was bombarded with over 4,000 one-star ratings on IMDb months before it was even released. When this happens, as it has in the past with "Ghostbusters," "Birth of a Nation," and "13th," we hope each film is provocative enough to warrant the controversy. Unfortunately, despite numerous award nominees and winners attached to the project behind and in front of the camera, this winds up being a rather mediocre, melodramatic affair. Despite being about a horrendous and tragic subject, the movie feels emotionally flat. This is mostly due to the romantic story line between Mikael and Ana, which we not only never get invested in as audience members, but never even believe from the start. Isaac and LeBon seem to lack chemistry with one another, and because of it, we never really buy their relationship or root for them to find each other again through the chaos and the brutality of war.

The other more historical elements outside of the romance are quite interesting. The labor camps, a small band of Armenians holding their ground against advancing and outnumbering Turkish troops, the events in Mikael's life immediately following his arrest, and the risk Bale's Chris Myers takes in an effort to let the world know of the atrocities going on to the Armenian people, these are the moment Terry George and co. should have focused on the most. In fact, if they had cut the love story entirely and changed the focus of the film, it may have been quite a bit better and actually more impactful. We don't need to be force-fed a romance we don't even buy in order to learn about the Armenian genocide. It's not something that yearns to be palatable, it's genocide. It's supposed to be uncomfortable to see unfold before our eyes, like many of the movie that are set during the Holocaust. Also, this is a movie that could have benefited from an R-rating in order to show such atrocities on a wider, fuller, more harrowing scale.

What showed real potential in the beginning is squandered away in favor of a sub-par, emotionally stunted romance that, despite the charm and acting talents of two of the most well-rounded actors working in Hollywood right now, can't be changed with there mere presence or their extreme dedication to their roles. There's no denying that this subject matter deserves a proper, better film, we just hope that movie comes along sooner rather than later because this sporadically engaging picture isn't it. It's lovely that the 100% of the ticket sales go towards a good cause, though.

My Rating: 5/10
BigJ's Rating: 5/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 49%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.

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