The Promise is visually arresting and befittingly nostalgic, but no where near enough so to warrant or rectify the film’s atrociously underdeveloped protagonists and threadbare plot. Director Terry George fails to materialize the sobering and engrossing pathos elicited by genre heavyweights like Schindler’s List and, to a certain extent, George’s own Hotel Rwanda. As a result, The Promise falls subsequently flat.
Co-writers George and Robin Swicord’s (heavily revised) vision of a whimsical, fleeting love-triangle trope backdropped by the Armenian genocide is as bad a narrative combination as it reads, exploiting the atrocity and its victims as mere devices of tragedy in an attempt to humanize characters that scarcely qualify as people that are even remotely worthy of triggering compassion. The only genuine humanness residing in the otherwise haughty film is its desire to produce a movie that’s accessible and informative regarding the plight of the Armenian people. Sadly, if you’re looking for a thorough and honest chronicling of the Armenian genocide, you’re better off looking elsewhere…perhaps Atom Egoyan’s Ararat?
During the final days of the Ottoman Empire, Michael (Oscar Isaac), an apothecary living in a small Armenian village, promises himself to Maral (Angela Sarafyan) in order to obtain a 400 gold coin dowery that will fund his medical schooling in the city of Constantinople. Crashing at his Uncle’s, Michael befriends a fellow student, who just happens to be the son of a high-ranking Turkish general. To further complicate things, Michael begins to fall in love with his cousins’ dance instructor Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), who is already in a complicated relationship with Christopher Myers (Christian Bale), an American Journalist with the Associated Press.
As the Turks begin to evict countless from their homes and uninhibitedly slaughter Armenians by the thousands, unchecked, Michael and Ana’s relationship blossoms, nurtured by the absence of Christopher, who’s off documenting the barbarity. Forced into hiding, Michael and Ana do all they can to avoid the perpetrators and save as many Armenian lives as they can.
Emerging from TIFF as a frontrunner for the year’s biggest disappointment, the first production from Survival Pictures hasn’t exactly gotten the studio off on the right foot. With a cast that boasts Oscar Isaac and Oscar winner Christian Bale, The Promise certainly had the big-name draw to, at the very least, get off to a running start. Unfortunately, like a stone skipping across the water’s surface, briefly managing to stay afloat thanks to initial momentum, Terry George’s film inevitably sinks.
Its biggest drawback is its insufferably pacing. Shiftless in its approach, The Promise takes giant, unwarranted moral leaps that only further the irreversible damage done by the story’s already stifling characterization process. Frequently abandoning previous character construct in order to progress the film, it isn’t only the protagonists that prolong this uninteresting, monotonous nightmare.
There’s no question that there should be quite a bit material to cover, certainly enough so that the film’s 134 minute runtime wouldn’t have been an issue. At no point, however, does The Promise feel accurately segmented. Sporadically altering from feeling rushed in spots and dragging in others, the film lingers a little too long in places it shouldn’t and speeds through areas where it should’ve remained idle. Not to mention there’s a surprising lack of tension where it should be oozing, a lack of remorse where there should be, a lack of romance, a lack of politics, a lack of humanity…shall I continue?
You’d think the only bright spot in a film this dismal and dull would be its star-studded cast…you’d think so… but I’m dejected to have to inform you that even the likes of Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac cannot mend a film this fragmented. If anything, their very presence tacks anger on to an already chiefly negative list of emotions sparked by the film and its fruitlessness. French-Canadian actress Charlotte Le Bon is arguably the only character/performer here to standout. Even so, she’s reduced to pawn-like status: moving, talking and protecting only to assist and further acculturate Bale and Isaac’s fictitious counterparts.
Half a star for its consistently eye-pleasing visuals (the only constant in the film), half a star for its attempt to make the Armenian genocide a universally accessible and acknowledged travesty and half a star for Bale’s magnificent facial hair. Yes, it’s a short list when searching for redeeming qualities in The Promise when all is said and done, and I have no doubt that it will ultimately become one of the year’s most disappointing films when it finally hits theatres.
Stagnant, contrived, and oh so boring, The Promise is nothing but a perfectly good waste of Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac’s towering abilities.