$100 million budget is almost unheard of for an independent film, but the late billionaire
philanthropist Kirk Kerkorian wanted to make a statement. In the past, Turkish
Islamist deniers of the Armenian Genocide have been remarkably successful censoring
Hollywood and other prospective producers of films depicting the Ottoman-orchestrated
mass murder of ethnic Armenia Christians, but they couldn’t silence Kerkorian,
who entirely financed the production of Terry George’s The Promise (trailer
which opens this Friday in New York.
The Promise releases in
theaters a mere six weeks after Joseph Ruben’s irredeemably shameful The Ottoman Lieutenant, a Turkish-produced
attempt to obscure and trivialize the Armenian Genocide, but it should generate
considerably more interest due to it’s A-list cast (Christian Bale vs. Josh
Hartnett) and infinitely superior intentions. As the film opens, ambitious
young apothecary Mikael Pogosian has agreed to marry the earnest Maral after
first using her dowry to attend medical school in Constantinople. It is not
love, at least not on his part, but he recognizes her goodness and so assumes
he will grow to love her over time.
as soon as he sets foot in the fashionable home of his father’s wealthy
merchant cousin, Pogosian falls head over heels with the children’s music tutor
Ana Khesarian. She too is already in a problematic but committed relationship
with crusading American journalist Chris Myers, so both try to deny their
burgeoning attraction. However, as anti-Armenian violence erupts throughout the
Sick Man of Europe, Pogosian and Khesarian are thrown together in ways that breaks
down their resolve.
separated from Khesarian, Pogosian finds himself detailed to a work brigade
that will consigned to a mass grave once they finish the road they are toiling
on. The doctor-in-training will escape the fate assigned to him, but he will
witness far more horrors as he makes his way through the formerly Armenian
provinces, ultimately arriving at the fateful Musa Dagh.
The Promise is not
anti-Muslim. Indeed, it takes great pains to introduce Emre Ogan, Pogosian’s
Muslim colleague at medical school, who consistently tries to shield his friend
from anti-Armenian discrimination and persecution. Of course, the fun-loving
Ogan will not be any Islamist’s idea of a Muslim, but it makes him all the more
sympathetic to rational viewers.
we have yet to see the defining, hearts-and-minds changing film on the Armenian
Genocide, but at least in the case of The
Promise, it was not for a lack of trying. Oscar Isaac and Charlotte Le Bon
develop decent Yuri-and-Lara chemistry as Pogosian and Khesarian. Bale is
terrific as the heroic but deeply flawed Myers. However, the great Shohreh
Aghdashloo and Angela Sarafyan (technically the only true Armenian cast-member)
really pack an emotional wallop as Pogosian’s tough but loving mother Marta and
his loyal intended Maral, respectively.
fact, there are dozens small but accomplished supporting turns distributed throughout
The Promise, including Rade
Serbedzija as the steely mayor leading the resistance at Musa Dagh and Marwan
Kenzari as the likable but ultimately tragic Ogan. Plus, James Cromwell memorably
gives the Ottoman authorities a stinging moral rebuke as American Ambassador
Henry Morgenthau Sr.
The Promise is a big, sweeping
film, but it suffers from its formulaic predictableness. George and
co-screenwriter Robin Swicord were clearly looking towards David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago as a model, but there is
no analog for Sir Alec Guinness’s wild card performance as Lt. Gen. Yevgraf
Zhivago. No matter how many times we watch Zhivago,
we still do not quite know what to make of him, whereas we can quickly
pigeonhole every character in The Promise.
Still, there is quite a bit to recommend George’s
film. The war scenes are impressively brutal and viewers can viscerally feel
the resulting emotional devastation experienced by the Armenian community. It
certainly does not deserve the one-star reviews tens of thousands of Genocide
deniers have robotically posted on imdb, despite the film only having screened
publicly a handful of times at the Toronto Film Festival. Recommended for general
audiences, The Promise opens this
Friday (4/21) in New York, at the AMC Empire and Loews Lincoln Square.
Labels: Armenian Genocide, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac, Shohreh Aghdashloo