The Promise (2017), by Terry George, is a film about love and mass murder in the Ottoman Empire in 1914. An Armenian medical student, Michael (Oscar Isaac), is engaged to be married but drifts into an easy love for another man’s sweetheart, Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), also Armenian. That these two are Armenian inescapably makes them targets for a stronger power—the Turks—who start destroying those of this particular ethnic group.
The movie is often beautiful and always transporting, a big-screen treat. (I have no desire to see it on the small screen.) But it is not the cinematic epic Hollywood should have given us, except for its dealing with the Armenian genocide. Director George and Robin Swicord have penned a highly predictable and often trite screenplay. Trite: after Michael and Ana make love one night, the film cuts to Michael still in bed, looking at a fully dressed Ana as she dutifully puts up her hair. . . Also, there is nonsense. An Armenian captive prefers having a bullet lodged under his facial skin to its being taken out. (Hey, it isn’t fatal yet.) And why do the Turks permit the Armenians to carry crates of explosives when the Turks themselves are at risk?
After reading Read’s Scarpia, I am dumbfounded by how inadequate a period piece The Promise is. I don’t regret, even so, seeing it in a theatre, and you may not either. How disappointment can be kept at bay, though, I do not know.