The Promise

Film, Drama
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • 3 out of 5 stars
(4user reviews)
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The Promise

Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale headline this drama exploring the brutal reality of the Armenian genocide

This ambitious, sweeping, occasionally dramatically 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 of influence in Constantinople, violent oppression and mass killings, the siege of Musa Dagh in 1915 – into an English-language romantic triangle 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 smoke to study medicine who’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 US foreign correspondent. But the outbreak of war and the beginning of a vicious official policy towards 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 fictionalised personal tragedies are never as compelling as the real horror, perhaps rightly, and some subtleties are left for other storytellers to explore. But still, ‘The Promise’ is handsome, accessible and illuminating, and some strong performances help to paper over the difficulties of a story with so much historical weight on its shoulders.

By: Dave Calhoun


Release details

Rated: 12A
Release date: Friday April 28 2017
Duration: 132 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Terry George
Screenwriter: Terry George, Robin Swicord
Cast: Christian Bale
Oscar Isaac
Charlotte Le Bon

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Average User Rating

2.5 / 5

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2 people listening
Elizabeth P

I can understand how people find the Hollywood treatment of such serious subject matters insulting. As a person who was mainly ignorant of the genocide referenced here I actually found it quite informative and obviously distressing. I suppose that ironically using such tragic events as a backdrop for a love story will probably bring this part of history into the conscience of more people than a serious documentary would. Personally I didn't find the love story that distracting.

Oscar Issac carried the film for me, along with the amazing cinematography. Not a film you need to see on the big screen but definitely worth a watch. Felt quite topical giving the current state of the world.


Considering the seriousness of the topic I left the cinema disappointed by its realisation. The genocide sometimes appears to be the background story for the triangle love story, which lost my interest half way into the movie.

Given that this part of world history is not often discussed and even denied I was hoping for a movie to raise awareness, but in my opinion it failed to do so. You can glimpse good intentions from time to time, but they don't stick.

It might be a starting point for some, but stay away if you are looking for a more factual depiction.


This film wants to have an epic sweep, in the vein of Dr Zhivago, underpinned by a relatively pedestrian romantic plot, and it is moving at times, but it is over-long and weighed down by its serious intentions, no matter how worthy those intentions are. Oscar Isaac is great to watch but the script just isn't as great as he wants it to be. And the less is said about Bale's beard the better...

John C

This has the look of an ancient, old fashioned epic. A rather contrived "love story" is used to tell us about an atrocity that the world seems to be unaware of. The atrocity being the mass killing of one & half million Armenians just over a hundred years ago.

We are told that the genocide was committed by Turkey, but the film tells us that Turkey has always denied this.

I am totally sick of recent Hollywood versions of "true stories", so I find it impossible to totally swallow the given "facts" when they are presented as part of a very long winded soap opera.

There must be a serious factual documentary to be made about this subject (there may even have been one - but I'm not aware of it)