The Promise: Film Review

All I knew about The Promise was that Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale were in it, and I was sold, so I had no idea I was in for an intense war epic about the Armenian Genocide. The story was fascinating in a horrifying way but something was off – I should have been in tears and breaking my heart, but I was unmoved.

The story focuses on Armenian Mikael (Isaac), who goes to Constantinople to study medicine with money he has received for promising to marry Maral (Angela Sarafyan). There, he falls in love with fellow Armenian Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), who grew up in Paris and is with Chris (Bale), an American reporter for the Associated Press. They all get caught up in the chaos when the Ottoman Empire start rounding up Armenians, the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, in 1915.

It would be unfair to say more because the story has many twists and turns and is very sweeping and epic in scale. I have never seen a film before about the Armenian Genocide and I had no idea of the magnitude of it. It was horrific. I was gripped by the story from a historical point of view, I wanted to learn as much as I could and the film does this very well.

The filmmakers clearly put in the love triangle element so we had a human story to connect with to help us be more affected by the atrocities but I didn’t love the romance side of it. I didn’t fully believe that Ana and Mikael were into each other so I didn’t go through the film wishing they could end up together – I didn’t care about that. I cared more about his new wife back in Armenia and Chris, the jilted parties.

The setting was gorgeous and beautifully shot, with the exception of some obvious green screen moments and badly CGI explosions that were quite laughable. These happened in the very beginning and immediately put me off the film, but I was willing to be won over and that never quite happened. Something was off and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Films of this nature, about real-life atrocities, usually send me tears with ease but I was barely moved. Sure, there were moments when I was horrified by what happened, but I was never emotional, which was odd.

I blame the pacing. The film is 134 minutes but it felt SO much longer. And what’s more annoying is that the end half is actually the best so they could have done with shaving down some of the earlier stuff. It may also have something to do with the performances – Bale was great as usual in a quiet and brooding manner, as a reporter who is threatened for what he’s written and a man who knows his partner is in love with someone else. I connected with him the most. Le Bon had understated emotion and was the most charming onscreen whereas I felt Isaac overdid things. Sure, there are some horrific moments to react to but he did lay it on very thick.

All in all, I’m glad the film exists from a historical and educational perspective because it was very insightful and tells an important story. It’s just a shame that the film itself didn’t quite do it justice. It is not terrible by any means. There so are many good things about it but something can’t have been working right if I wasn’t moved to tears because that is usually really easy to do.

In cinemas Friday 28th April

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