The Promise


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The Promise
"Scenes are set up and played out as if rehearsing for a mud sculpture"

Love and war go together like the ocean and the shore, passion and pain forever testing the limitations of human endeavour. Sooner or later the spirit breaks and what remains are memories which become blurred over time. As the girl says, "Our revenge will be to survive."

Revenge for what? Why? Who is the girl?

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In 1914 Mikael (Oscar Isaac), an Armenian medical student who is neither trained nor a student but does his best for the poor rural community where his family lives is presented with enough money to enrol in the Imperial Medical School in Constantinople by his future father-in-law. The money and the fiancee are part of the deal. He becomes a doctor; he marries the daughter. It's the barter system. Take it or leave it. He takes it.

In Constantinople he meets the girl, the other girl, the one. Her name is Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) and her beauty captures the core of his being. She feels the same for him and yet has a boyfriend/partner, the American journalist Myers (Christian Bale). Is this a menage-a-trois, or a menage-a-quatre if you include the promised bride-to-be back home?

Before the intensity of these relationships explode something else intervenes. It is called genocide. The Turks turn on the Armenians like the Serbs turned on the Bosnians and the Nazis turned on the Jews. Villages are decimated, "traitors" are executed and spies discovered behind every lamp post. No one is safe.

What might have been Doctor Zhivago in a fez locks down as an imitation of those conventional British films of the Fifties. It is directed by Terry George with enough panache to feed a flea for five minutes. Scenes are set up and played out as if rehearsing for a mud sculpture. What is not predictable is inevitable. Isaac and Le Bon find themselves trapped. However hard they try, and their efforts are admirable, they are constricted by a script that portrays every Turk as a psycho killer and every Armenian as dead or a hero.

As for Bale, he has disguised himself as a ginger beard. To be unrecognisable is to be somewhere else. Clever move.

Reviewed on: 27 Apr 2017
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Complex love triangle against a backdrop of Armenian genocide in Turkey during the Great War
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Director: Terry George

Writer: Terry George, Robin Swicord

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Marwan Kenzari, Alicia Barrachero, Angela Sarafyan, Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Tom Hollander

Year: 2016

Runtime: 133 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: America


Deauville 2017

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Doctor Zhivago
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