Historical events sometimes put a cloud over a movie that it can never shake. That certainly is the case with the drama THE OTTOMAN LIEUTENANT. Historians are in agreement that the Armenian Genocide did in fact happen and was perpetuated by the Ottoman government and later the country of Turkey from around 1914 to 1923. This film glosses over that fact and just can’t be taken seriously because of it. Other than that, it is lukewarm romance set during the time of World War I.
Lillie (Hera Hilmar) is an idealistic American nurse, who in the beginning of the film witnesses a seriously hurt black man being turned away from a white hospital in Philadelphia in 1914. She is troubled by this fact and wants a purpose in her life. She attends a lecture by a doctor named Jude (Josh Hartnett) who works at a hospital in the middle of nowhere nestled in the Ottoman Empire. He talks of all the good that he does with little money and the community appreciates it. Lillie confronts him afterwards and asks if he would turn away a hurt black man. He responds that they treat everyone and no one is turned away.
This spurs Lillie into action. She has found her calling and she wants to donate her dead brother’s car to the hospital and help out there as well. This does not go over well with her parents. They believe that place is not a place for a woman. They humored her with nursing school, but this is going too far. She leaves anyway. She runs into problems in transporting the car though. It is a rough terrain and she loses her escort. Luckily for her, she meets the title character. He is Lieutenant Ismail Veil (Michiel Huisman) of the Ottoman Imperial Army. He takes her to an ancient mosque where she is blown away by its architecture. She remembers him when she is told that a military escort would be needed to get her where she needs to go.
This starts an odyssey where the two get confronted by some Armenians who almost kill them and steal the car and the medical supplies. You certainly get an uncomfortable feeling in the initial portrayal of the Armenians. They look unwashed and they have no scruples of stealing what is not theirs and killing when they see fit.
The duo does finally get to the hospital. They are greeted by Jude and Dr Garrett Woodruff (Ben Kingsley). Garrett founded the hospital with his wife with the intention of treating anyone who comes in. Jude is skeptical of Ismail and his intentions. He knows there is more that meets the eye with the arrangement of the escort. He would be right. Garrett is not impressed at first with the skills of Lillie as a nurse. But if you’ve seen any movie at all, you know how that will eventually turn out. Garrett is also still mourning the loss of his wife, but that is mainly put in there to give his character some depth.
Both Ismail and Jude fall in love with Lillie. She is drawn at first to the principles of Jude, but she is mainly swept away by the mystery of Ismail. You see, Ismail is Muslim and isn’t really supposed to cavort with a Christian woman in Lillie. I never quite bought into their romance. They both are good looking, but there seemed to be something missing there.
All of this is happening as war approaches on the world stage and locally. The Turks don’t trust the Armenians. The Russians are also coming and the Turks believe the Armenians will join up with them. Jude and Garrett do their part by storing guns for the Armenians. Ismail does scouting for the army. He is sent on a couple dangerous missions. Throughout the film, Lillie does narration and explains how war is bad and the plight of the Ottoman government. It is a bit much at times. Lillie helpfully mentions one time that the mission that Ismail is on is dangerous where he has to blow up a supply of ammunition that the Russians had captured. It is quite comical that this valuable stash is hardly guarded. I guess Lillie was given bad information.
THE OTTOMAN LIEUTENANT does boast gorgeous scenery. Turkey looks great on the screen. It looks like something off a postcard. But that does not hide the moldiness from this knock off of “The English Patient”. It wants to be a romance with an inconvenient war thrown in and a dash of earnestness from the perky American nurse. As mentioned previously, the specter of the Armenian Genocide hangs over the film. It is brushed over in this movie where basically war is the convenient scapegoat there. That just isn’t right.
Video: Turkey is perfectly captured on the screen with its vast landscape and beaming light.
Audio: The sound was average. I did have to turn on the closed captioning because it was hard to hear the characters at times.