When I was a kid, I possessed an old National Geographic map of Europe and Middle East. On it, little historical reminders, notations were listed in red. One of these notes told of several thousand Armenians who had been buried alive by the Turks and then trampled to death by Calvary horses, or suffocated by the ensuing dust that was kicked up. Welcome to the Turkish genocide against the Armenians that killed over 1.5 million people. It is core to the movie, The Promise, which I saw this week.
In a different era, The Promise certainly would've garnered several major Oscar nominations. But in this day and age, the movie is mired in all kinds of ridiculous campaigns against it. Before I dive into deeply reviewing the movie, it is worth noting, the audience rating on this film is an A-. I wholeheartedly agree with the average audience.
The cast in The Promise is unbelievable. Oscar Isaac runs the gambit of emotions as the Armenian villager in Turkey, who sets out to use a dowry, and a family connection to become a doctor by attending medical school in Istanbul. There he meets Charlotte Le Bon, who plays an Armenian who has spent years in Paris. She is the lover of Christian Bale, an AP Reporter. The setting for this epic is 1914 as World War One breaks out.
And this brings me to controversy number one. The Turks launched a campaign to sink the movie before it opened. They posted all bad reviews on sites like Rotten Tomatoes driving the rating down. The site had to suspend comments. If you see bad reviews, ignore them. Like I said, the audience rating is an A-.
As I said, the acting is phenomenal. But it brings me to controversies 2 and 3. First, the story, as you might have gathered, entails a love triangle. Critics blasted the movie for focusing on the love affairs. The problem with that criticism is that the plot line works. I don't know if people expected the whole movie to be about the genocide but even in times of genocide, people love, marry, and struggle with family issues.
In some respects, this movie reminded me of the classic great film, Dr. Zhivago. That epic had not one love triangle but at least 3. And the Bolshevik Revolution wasn't exactly a sublime event.
What I liked about the love story is that it kept the genocide human. I found myself easily relating to how the genocide came crashing into these people's lives, and not for the better. Trapped by circumstances is an universal theme. We've all been there. Some people still live there.
Charlotte Le Bon kept me guessing on what her next move might be and her suffering of the heart was not an easy feat to pull off but she did it. Isaac started Center Stage and remained there with a powerful performance.
The other controversy I alluded to was Christian Bale. He took a lot of heat for this role because it wasn't the lead and didn't have tons of lines. But that non-verbal communication, man, oh, man. He nailed it.
One thing about his acting. He is a very 'physical' actor. This move was no exception. He changed his walk, his stance to fit the character. And if you think of it, physically, I don't think he has looked the same two movies in a row. He is that good. I commend him for taking a supporting role in such an important film and making the audience care about that person.
There are other big names in the cast, like James Cromwell, and I could go on, but I would be amiss not to say something about the camera work. Wow. The movie has an epic feel to it and you feel like you are along for a grand adventure in Turkey when watching it. The musical score ties in and this becomes a film you have no trouble sitting through more than once.
As for the genocide, despite critics of the movie, it actually does dominate the story. Furthermore, you learn a lot about the genocide itself. Erdogan's Turkey may want to silence those trying to shed light on a tragic history of the Armenian people, but history can't be brushed aside. One thing I learned was the role of the French Navy in rescuing Armenians and Turkey trying to collect the life insurance money of Armenians it had killed from American companies. Two of several details I did not know before sitting down to watch this movie.
I can't say enough about this movie. It was entertaining. It was educational. It also broke new ground by turning a spotlight on an atrocity committed by Turks. There will be no honor in Turkey until it comes face to face with its own history.
I will give this a 5 on the rating scale. I plan to buy the DVD when it comes out. I really urge you to see this movie while you can. You won't regret it.