The Bock’s Office: ‘The Promise’ a harrowing account of history | SteamboatToday.com

The Bock’s Office: ‘The Promise’ a harrowing account of history

Andy Bockelman

Mikael and Ana (Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon) share an emotional reunion in "The Promise." The movie is about the events of the Armenian Genocide.

People often see what they want to see and remember things as they prefer. That being said, it's hard to fathom how the events of "The Promise" cannot strike a chord with any viewer.

If you go…

"The Promise," rated PG-13

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

Running time: 134 minutes

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale and Daniel Giménez-Cacho

Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.

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In 1914, Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac) dreams of becoming a doctor, a career that's unlikely given his meager finances and location in the Armenian village Sirun. His fortune changes when he becomes betrothed to the wealthy Maral (Angela Sarafyan), whose dowry he can use to further his education, promising his future wife he will make something of himself and return a success.

Receiving his schooling in Constantinople, Mikael is exposed to many things for the first time in the bustling metropolis, including a growing sentiment against his heritage by the Turkish people. However, he also finds friendship with a well-traveled young Armenian woman named Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) and her paramour, Chris (Christian Bale), an American journalist monitoring the unrest in the region.

Mikael's status as a student protects him from conscription into military service, but he is not able to avoid being forced into imprisonment among hundreds of Armenian men as ordered by the Ottoman Empire. While he is able to escape, he learns upon his return home that the situation is only growing worse for those with ties to Armenia and survival will not be easy.

Isaac provides yet another fine performance as an ambitious man ripped from his relatively cushy life into a nightmarish battleground by a government that views him, his family and everyone like them less than nothing. Starting as a timid academic, he not only manages to stay alive in this hellscape but even step up and rescue those displaced by the chaos.

Le Bon offers beauty, brains and backbone as Ana, a tutor to Mikael's nieces, not hesitating to jump into action amid the roundups and slayings, forming a quiet bond with Mikael that grows to true love as they're separated than reunited.

Bale has one of his most restrained but capable showings as the Associated Press correspondent who recognizes well in advance what will happen yet still cannot contain his horror when he personally witnesses atrocities like women and children on death marches through the desert. What's more, even when he comes face to face with the perpetrators, it's all too easy for him to be painted as a spy by a force that denies everything he's attempting to tell the world.

It should be pointed out that the Turkish government's stance 100 years later has barely changed regarding the details of the Armenian Genocide and its classification, and the deaths of 1.5 million still remain a subject that many across the globe remain either unaware of or indifferent to as a significant part of world history.

Director and co-writer Terry George works toward the feel of "Doctor Zhivago" or "The English Patient" in a condensed epic that thinks a bit too small. Like many movies that take something of huge scope and frame it as the experience of a handful of people, there's too much emphasis on a fictitious love triangle that's downright trivial when one tragedy after another is heaped upon viewers.

Even so, an old-fashioned approach to storytelling is effective — as is the handsome cinematography of Javier Aguirresarobe — in conveying the impact that such events would have and continue to have. George could go the gory route, and he doesn't forego some sizable combat scenes as a barebones resistance fights back against troops, though the violence is tamer than it ought to be.

The most telling touch is that the Turkish officials and soldiers are not shown as bloodthirsty savages but a group that is all too willing to embrace hatred and commit whatever horrendous acts they feel justify their views.

The title of "The Promise" may refer to the oath Mikael makes to his fiancée, though it ultimately carries a greater weight given the topic. Accounts might become blurred and lives overlooked, but a collective vow by all of us to recognize what's undeniable prevents history from repeating itself.

Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @TheBocksOffice.

If you go…

“The Promise,” rated PG-13

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

Running time: 134 minutes

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale and Daniel Giménez-Cacho

Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.

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