Remarkably revealing as well as angering narrative of the atrocities against Armenians by the Ottoman Empire genocidal government, “The Promise” chronicles the religious, social & ethnic divides within what is now known as Turkey, but did this modern-day epic of a movie live up to both its title & it’s more classical cinematic colossus’s, or did the potential of this motion picture plummet to disappointing depths?
Looking back through history, the life & times of empires has been littered with awful acts against humanity, the Roman’s responsible for slavery & slaughter on a massive scale, while war was never far away from the likes of the Moors & the Mongols, indeed for the Aztec’s, it was a way of life, then moving into more modern times, the British cannot deny brutality in extending their empire reaches, the concentration camps in South Africa, sugar plantation servitude in the colonies (now known as America) & their massive aggression across Asia, although being the largest empire in history has also brought benefits to the 412 million it held sway over at its height. But there are others whose history is not as well known as the British or the Romans, one such oppressor being the Ottoman empire, a formidable force that grew out of and defeated the centuries old Byzantine kingdom that held territories stretched to the extent between modern middle east countries including Israel & Iraq and the eastern edges of Europe. But it fell to the Turks when they took Constantinople and, in so doing, created the Ottoman realm, a power that survived from the fourteenth century right up to the end of the first world war, when its expansive regions were carved up by allied forces, this coinciding with the Turkish war of independence that resulted in the country we know today. So why is this lengthy history lesson sitting in one of our screenplay review and why, having researched on the subject since, have we focussed on the savage sides of empires? Well for good reason, as “The Promise” is set in the tumultuous time of that saw the demise of the Ottoman domain and the genocidal atrocities it enacted over its sectarian subjects, particularly the Armenians and, having had little knowledge of the awful acts the more dominant Turks applied, admittedly not on the scale of the holocaust, but nevertheless an extermination of an estimated 1.5 million men, women & children, as this film unfolded, emotionally emotive as it was, both our disgust & our anger towards the now nation of Turkey exploded to the extent that we left the cinema, not tearful as we do from such moving motion pictures, but with our temper frayed to the point of aggression, if only verbally so.
But what of “The Promise” itself? Well, setting aside the history which, we have to say, this film depicted deftly, if we are honest, there wasn’t much more to proverbially write home about, as it was clear from the off that the cinematography was not up to scratch, this despite the implied intention that this was to be a modern day epic come biblical spectacle in the style “Ben Hur”, “Spartacus” & “The Last Emperor”, the two hour twenty minute length suggesting so, while the problems of this picture also extended to our own expectations of the lead, Oscar Isaac, who had impressed us so much in “A Most Violent Year” & “Ex Machina”, as well as in “Inside Llewyn Davis”, a film where he was able to flex his musician muscles, one of many strings to this talented actor’s bountiful bow, yet here in “The Promise” he failed to ignite anywhere near as lofty an impression, we disappointed with the lack of other stand-out stars in the cast, well excepting Christian Bale, with whom we struggle to find favour, even in “The Big Short” which we quite liked, Charlotte Le Bon the only other recognisable face in a sea of unfamiliar folk that flooded this film. And while we don’t necessarily seek out the stars, given what “The Promise” was purporting to be, we were expecting more and Oscar wasn’t anywhere near enough alone, although in giving him the benefit of our doubt, his character & portrayal did centre in on the atrocities of the Armenians at the hands of the Turks, while the film itself opened our eyes to the inter religious tensions in the then Ottoman empire, the genocide drawing comparison with the terrible treatment of the Jews at the hands of the Nazi’s (forgive us to coming back to the history, but it does play a prominent part in this otherwise paltry picture). And it seems we are not alone with our views, as having studied some receptions it has received across the industry, luke warm would be a fair summary, while praise for its historical accuracy is pretty much unanimous in the comments reviewers have made. Indeed, it is its authenticity that is this screenplay’s undeniable strength, “The Promise” without doubt the most accomplished advocate (perhaps the only) for unearthing the bitter truth of the atrocities against the Armenian race and so for that reason alone, deserves commendable credit. (DISCO MATT)