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PHIL ON FILM: 'The Promise' falls short of its potential

Posted at 9:18 AM, Apr 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-21 15:41:12-04

Acclaimed lead actors, beautiful backdrops and an undertold, heart-wrenching historical backdrop would seem to be all the ingredients it would take to make "The Promise" into the sweeping romance director Terry George wants it to be. 

But a dull, meandering script is all it takes to turn the potentially resonant film into a slow, long-winded bore. 

Things start off promising enough. The setting is 1914 in the eastern Ottoman Empire, where the Armenian minority struggles under the impression of the ruling Turks. Oscar Issac -- Poe Dameron from "The Force Awakens") -- plays Mikael, an Aermenian medical student who reluctantly agrees to an arranged marriage in exchange for a dowry that will pay his way through medical school in Constantinople

There, he falls for Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), an upper-crust socialite Armenian who was raised in Paris. Ana's boyfriend, hard-drinking American journalist Chris Myers (Christian Bale) bristles with the budding romance that he senses is developing behind his back. Their problems don't amount to a hill of beans once the Great War and its accompanying Armenian genocide ignite.

In short order, Mikael is a reluctantly married man, bitterly serving as a soldier for the empire as his medical career evaporates. Ana is a lost soul and Chris has stumbled onto the story of a lifetime as he struggles to keep his waning romance afloat.

The characters cross paths so much during the methodical, increasingly forced narrative that turns Mikael and Chris into action heroes and gives Ana little else to do than pine for both of them. When any of the three meet, they tend to talk at each other in long-winded monologues, which they pause long enough only to let Mikael step in and deliver overly obvious narration that needlessly tells what he is thinking and feeling at any given time.

The tragic fate of the 1.5 millions of Armenians rounded up and massacred by the government looms in the background, demanding more than the lip service the characters give it. It's almost as though the film is on a timer, with characters pausing to acknowledge how awful it is that Armenians are being rounded up and government officials are covering it up. The perfunctory acknowledgment does more to trivialize the horror rather than highlight it.

What starts off as a "Casablanca"-style morality play about conflicted hearts swept away by the torrents of war devolves into a lifeless gabfest with little purpose or direction.

Consider this "Promise" unfulfilled. 

RATING: 2 stars out of 4.