In a predictable trudge through the Armenian Genocide, The Promise delivers nothing that we haven’t seen before. Oscar Isaac plays an impoverished Armenian from the Anatolian outback who dreams of becoming a doctor. To afford medical school in Constantinople, he uses the dowry available after his betrothal to a sweet and prominently-schnozzed local girl. For his studies, he moves alone to the big city, where he meets a cosmopolitan Armenian beauty (Charlotte Le Bon), who has been living in Paris with her boyfriend, an iconoclastic American journalist (Christian Bale). Just as sparks fly between Isaac and Le Bon, World War I erupts and the Turks persecute and then massacre Armenians, causing the two to flee separately for their lives. Isaac’s medical student finds himself hiding in his home village, married to his fiance. Le Bon’s sophisticate is on the run with Bale’s journalist as he covers the developments. Will the Armenian lovers meet again in Eastern Turkey, and will he stay true to his marital vows?
The talents of Isaac and Bale are wasted in this movie. Isaac’s character is so top-to-bottom decent and so buffeted by developments that are not his fault, there just isn’t much texture to portray. Similarly, Bale’s reporter, while purportedly an international man of mystery, is just a Jeff Bridgesey teddy bear of a guy at his core.
The Promise is not as bad as the epically bad epic The Ottoman Lieutenant, and has much higher superior production values and a moderately better screenplay. Both movies share the beginning of World War I and the Armenian Genocide, along with an American protestant mission in southeastern Turkey. As in The Ottoman Lieutenant, there’s an unintentional audience laugh – when Isaac’s mother intones “I told them you were dead”.