It seems like the Armenian Genocide is a taboo subject. There are few movies about the historical event and it’s not something taught in the American school system (at least when I went). It should be something that everyone should know about because of how barbaric the murder of around one million people was during WWI. While THE PROMISE is far from being the SCHINDLER’S LIST of the Armenian Genocide, it’s important to note and respect the film’s efforts to shed light on one of the darker parts of history.
Mikael (Isaac) generally escapes the horrors of war and the grasp of the imperialist Ottoman Empire by having friends in high places, as well as working as an early 20th century doctor and pharmacist. During his travels across Turkey, before the war, he befriends Ana (Le Bon), an Armenian woman raised in Paris, and Associated Press reporter, Chris (Bale). This trio will become important much later. Their newfound friendship doesn’t last long as diplomacy falls apart and the world is thrown into turmoil.
Mikael, while attempting to rescue family members from being rounded up and shipped off to prisons, is imprisoned himself. That’s where he first views the horrors off the battlefield. While managing to escape, he finds out that Ana and Chris are working to help Armenians and other prisoners of war to escape and heal with the help of the Red Cross. But all the sanctuary cities and towns become unsafe as advancing troops and others round up Armenians to be shipped off; Or in some instances, savagely murdering them in groups in the woods. It’s all very brutal and humbling, but would be more impactful if it wasn’t for the subplot that Mikael, Ana and Chris are in a love triangle.
A love triangle seems like the last thing that would be of interest to the backdrop in THE PROMISE, but that’s what happens as the genocide sometimes takes a backseat to the uninteresting romance plot. It seems like it should be more of an annotation or an off the cuff remark, but it’s consistently brought up and hinted at, as if the audience is supposed to be more invested in Mikael’s love life over him and others attempting to save a group of crying Armenian orphans who’ve watched their parents be slaughtered.
While I’m a little bit too forgiving, I can see how something like this could be frustrating for historians and individuals with a deep, personal connection to this tragedy. When it does set the love triangle on the back burner, the tale is enriching, pulling out all the stops to grasp the epic scope of death, tears and humanity at its breaking point. The counter argument is that Chris is needed so that American audiences can grab onto something, but I beg to differ because of Mikael’s humanity that can stand alone on its own two feet.
Percolating underneath these two butting plots is politics and the attempts by those in power to normalize the slaughter of an entire race. In much more capable hands, THE PROMISE would have been more impactful (that’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments) and not have slipped into audiences blind spot. Despite my frustrations, I felt like there was enough to keep me interested in how Mikael’s story played out, and at the end of the day, it’s important that there was an attempt to tell the story of a Holocaust that is still denied by its perpetrators.
BLU RAY REVIEW
Video: (1080p HD Widescreen 2:39:1) The sweeping shots of the harsh Middle East and few moments of wartime bombardment are captured wonderfully on this blu-ray, in all its destructive and devastating imagery.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1) The bombs rattle and the gunfire startles, and the words sometimes match their impact. The audio mixing is spot-on.
Deleted Scenes (6:13): There are only about three deleted scenes, with optional commentary by the director. None of the scenes add anything to the overall arch of the plot, but it’s interesting hear Terry George’s opinion and attitude towards the scenes.
The Love Story (2:36): A minimalist effort is made by the cast and crew to justify the weakest aspect of the film in this short feature.
War and Struggle (2:51): This feature should have been much longer, but alas it is only a footnote of commentary to an otherwise decent key to why the movie should have been a whole lot better.
A Cause (3:19): The most engaging aspect of the film comes with a recap of what we already know about the film, as well as a cautionary message about contemporary genocide.
Feature Commentary with Director Terry George and Producer Eric Esrailian: Despite the two biggest drivers behind the film, they aren’t very exciting or enthusiastic. While they do a decent job dissecting a lot of the story’s plot points, in relevance to history, there’s a lot of silence, especially towards the second half. It may just be that it’s too long of a movie or it failed at the box office, possibly putting a nail in their career’s coffins.