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The Promise Movie Review

The Promise (2017) movie poster The Promise

Theatrical Release: April 21, 2017 / Running Time: 132 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Terry George / Writers: Terry George, Robin Swicord

Cast: Oscar Isaac (Mikael Boghosian), Charlotte Le Bon (Ana), Christian Bale (Chris Myers), Daniel Gimιnez-Cacho (Father Andresian), Shohreh Aghdashloo (Marta), Rade Sherbedgia (Stephan), Marwan Kenzari (Emre), James Cromwell (Henry Morgenthau Sr.), Jean Reno (French Admiral), Tom Hollander (Garin), Kevork Malikyan (Vartan Boghosian)


Walt Disney once said, "You can't top pigs with pigs" in reference to the prospect of sequels to his hit 1933 animated short Three Little Pigs.
With The Promise, Hotel Rwanda director Terry George tries to top genocide with genocide.

The Promise, an original historical drama which George also co-wrote with Robin Swicord (Memoirs of a Geisha, Matilda, and 1994's Little Women) is set in 1914 in what today is Turkey. Our protagonist is Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac), an Armenian man passionate about medicine who intends to finish his required three years of study in just two.

Mikael makes a number of friends and acquaintances in Constantinople. They include the son of an influential Turkish general, France-raised Armenian dance instructor Ana (The Hundred Foot Journey's Charlotte Le Bon), and her boyfriend, the esteemed American journalist Chris Myers (Christian Bale) of the Associated Press.

"The Promise" centers on Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac), an Armenian man studying medicine in Turkey during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

With World War I beginning, Mikael has to enlist for the army, but his friend-classmate drops his father's name to get him a medical school exception. This act has consequences, as Mikael soon discovers that his people are not merely being relocated by the Turks but executed en masse and left in rivers and forests. There is a little bit of a romantic narrative too, with Mikael falling for Ana while being betrothed to a girl back in Armenia, the dowry from that arranged marriage paying for his medical schooling. But the Armenian Genocide around the fall of the Ottoman Empire is the main event here.

The Promise feels like a history lesson that should have an impact on you, but strangely does not. You feel bad that you can see a race of people being systematically wiped out by an overpowerful government and somehow not be moved. This is a stunning chapter in the not so distant past and one that, unlike the Holocaust, has not been dramatized extensively. In that regard, this invites comparisons to George's best-known film, the Don Cheadle-headed 2004 Rwandan Genocide drama.

That film presently sits comfortably on the IMDb's Top 250 list. This one currently holds a lowly 5.0 out of 10 rating on the same website. However, that rating, determined by over 100,000 votes (nearly half of what Hotel Rwanda has elicited with a 13-year head start) is clearly the product of rival campaigns by Armenians and those who deny the Genocide occurred. The Promise did premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, where it was panned by critics. Three months later, the film was acquired by Open Road Films, whose decision to release it in April frees it of any award season expectations and skepticism.

The storyline that comes closest to gripping involves Associated Press journalist Chris Myers (Christian Bale), not his Armenian-French girlfriend Ana (Charlotte Le Bon).

The Promise may fit the mold of an Oscar movie, but that's an outdated mold which hasn't truly been the Academy's type since the '80s or early '90s. With a baffling production budget of $100 million,
The Promise flirts with the label "epic." It certainly feels much longer than its substantial 132 minutes. Certain scenes are packed with extras and with some impressive period production design. But dramatically, the film underwhelms, always feeling like more of a slog than it should be, given the subject matter and the talent assembled in front of the camera.

It is tough to understand how enough parties could have seen a $100 million film on the Armenian Genocide as a sound investment. My screening was the most sparsely-attended one open to the general public that I've ever been to. And also the movie where people got out of their seats and returned with the greatest frequency. Restlessness or the senior citizen bladder? Maybe both. The Promise never shakes the feel of something that thinks it's important but never convinces you that it is. There are glimmers of intrigue, as when Bale's journalist is held as a spy and persuaded to compromise his principles or lose his life. But that fleeting storyline was the rare one that gripped and it was not at all the heart of the film.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Going in Style • The Fate of the Furious
Oscar Isaac: Inside Llewyn Davis • Ex Machina • A Most Violent Year
Christian Bale: American Hustle • The Big Short • Knight of Cups • The Prestige • The Fighter
Charlotte Le Bon: The Walk • The Hundred Foot Journey
Silence • The Immigrant • America America
Written by Robin Swicord: Matilda

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Reviewed April 21, 2017.

Text copyright 2017 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2017 Open Road Films, Survival Pictures, and Phoenix Pictures.
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