Film Review: The Promise
“Our Revenge Will be to Survive”
The Promise deserves a place in film history despite it’s negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and by opposition from the Turkish and Azerbaijani governments that still deny that The Armenian genocide ever happened. The film intends to shine a light on the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians during the fall of the Ottoman Empire as World War I unfolded. The U.S. and Israel don’t officially recognize the genocide either, so as not to damage relations with Turkey, a crucial geopolitical ally for the West.
Director Terry George’s film stars Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac in an epic romance set against the backdrop of the Armenian genocide. It was first unveiled September 11, 2016, at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was then released strategically on April 21, 2017, to the general public to coincide with Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, April 24.
Around the time The Promise was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival, Professor Tanam Akcam of Clark University announced the recent discovery of an important document. Buried within the personal archives of a deceased Armenian Catholic priest named Krikor Guerguerian, was a telegram dated July 4, 1915, and affixed with the official Ottoman letterhead. On it was a single question. It asked the recipient of the telegram to verify whether or not the Armenians listed as being deported from the country had been killed.
Most of the film’s $100 million budget was financed by Kirk Kerkorian who was born in 1917 and was an Armenian-American businessman, investor, and philanthropist. Kirkorian passed in 2015, at the age of 98, before he could see the completion of the film. Kerkorian founded Survival Pictures, a production company now managed by Eric Esrailian and Anthony Mandekic, who were dedicated to fulfilling Kerkorian’s wishes for the film. Survival Pictures states on their website that they are dedicated to telling stories of perseverance, endurance and the inextinguishable fire of the human spirit.
This isn’t the first attempt at a movie about the Armenian genocide. In the 1930s, MGM planned to adapt “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh,” a Franz Werfel novel about the massacres and deportations of Armenians, and the studio cast Clark Gable in the project. That production was abandoned after the Turkish government threatened to launch a worldwide campaign against the film.
The Promise is about a love triangle that develops between its main character, an Armenian medical student named Mikael (Oscar Isaac), and an American Associated Press journalist based in Paris named Chris (Christian Bale), and an Armenian-born woman raised in France named Ana (Charlotte Le Bon). The story is set during the final years of the Ottoman Empire and during the Armenian genocide.
Mikael is a struggling pharmacist who lives in the small Armenian village of Sirun, in the southeast part of the Ottoman Empire. In order to help pay the expenses of medical school, he promises to marry the daughter of an affluent neighbor and receives a dowry that allows him to travel to Constantinople (now Istanbul) and attend the Imperial Medical Academy. The film starts off very light-hearted as the main characters form friendships, but it quickly takes a turn for the worse when survival becomes the objective as the plot thickens.
At times during the film, romance takes a back seat once the focus is on the outbreak of war. Chris is compelled by his duties as a war correspondent to cover the carnage. Ana desperately tries to protect more than a dozen orphaned children. Michael’s attempt to save his own family results in him landing in a prison work camp. While there, he is almost over-worked to the brink of death.
The pros: The film’s leading men are none other than Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale — two of the best actors of their generation. The film makes you want to learn about a troubled time in world history. The film does leave you feeling very emotional about the atrocities of war. There aren’t many scenes in the film that leave you hanging or nodding off.
The cons: The Promise is a very predictable film. Overacting is an understatement, and the moments of romance depicted can get very corny.
Survival Pictures’ main goal is not earning back The Promise’s budget, the producers say, but ensuring that all proceeds from the historical-drama go to nonprofit organizations. They include the Elton John AIDS Foundation and other human rights and humanitarian groups. Kerkorian set the example by being a generous philanthropist, who donated more than $1 billion to charity, according to Esrailian. The cast was informed of this plan before signing on for the movie, and Survival Pictures is financially backing the film’s marketing efforts along with Open Road.
Overall Critic Review: Good for a one time watch. The film is a tragically beautiful, fictional, love triangle with breathtakingly scenic views. The story is drenched in the violent nature of man, and the war crimes committed during the non-fictional Armenian genocide.
The Promise, starring Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale, Charlotte Le Bon, rated PG-13, running time 2hours 13minutes, now playing