This ambitious, sweeping, occasionally wobbly WWI-era epic arrives with the noble aim of raising awareness of the still-disputed Armenian genocide, in which 1.5 million people died at the hands of the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey). Director and co-writer Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) goes for historical education by stealth, folding the chief milestones of this horror—the round-up of people in Constantinople, violent oppression and mass killings, the siege of Musa Dagh in 1915—into an English-language romantic melodrama that plays out across 1914 and 1915 and takes in city, village, forest and mountain.
Oscar Isaac is an effective leading man, solid and troubled as Mikael, a go-getting ethnic-Armenian villager who arrives in the big city to study medicine. He's already committed to marry a girl back home, with some reluctance. A new friendship with Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), a dancer, complicates things, not least because she’s with Chris (Christian Bale, brash and brooding), a bullish American correspondent. But the outbreak of war and the beginning of a vicious official policy toward the Armenian community and its supporters sends all their lives in a far more complex and dangerous direction.
You have to swallow some inadequacies to get the most out of The Promise. It is appealingly photographed and boasts some stunning location work, yet it’s also saddled with the tone of a biblical epic, invisibly watermarked with the label important. The fictionalized personal tragedie