The Promise

Charlotte Le Bon and Oscar Isaac. (Ster-Kinekor)
Charlotte Le Bon and Oscar Isaac. (Ster-Kinekor)

What it's about:

When Michael, a brilliant medical student, meets Ana, their shared Armenian heritage sparks an attraction that explodes into a romantic rivalry between Michael and Ana's boyfriend, Chris, a famous American photojournalist dedicated to exposing political truth. As the Turkish Ottoman Empire crumbles into war-torn chaos, their conflicting passions must be deferred while they join forces to get their people to safety, and to survive themselves.

What we thought:

The Armenian genocide is the backdrop of this story of a love triangle involving Oscar Isaac as Mikael Boghosian, Charlotte Le Bon as Ana Khesarian and Christian Bale as Chris Myers. 

It’s important to mention this when thinking of this film critically because those are the script’s two driving factors. A lot of critics have said that the story of the genocide is better served than the love story or that neither is actually done well enough. In my opinion though I think it’s more complicated than that. 

To me, the love story/love triangle (which heats up but never reaches a boil) is (purposefully) constantly hindered by the violence and loss of life of the genocide to underline what this moment in history did to a lot of people’s lives. The love story highlights how tragic the Armenian genocide was to so many people by zooming in on a group of people whose lives where forever changed for the worse while they were in the middle of living and falling in love. That’s something that a history book or a speech cannot impart in the same way. 

Of course I agree with many critics that the dichotomy between the love story and historical tragedy could have better done and that the immense acting talent of the three leads was a little bit lost with an overall production that landed with a soft thud instead of a punch. 

For sensitive viewers it’s important to note that some of the scenes were quite obviously very hard to watch because they dealt with violent deaths and the loss of people’s homes, their children and their towns. I am not saying that those scenes that deal with the worst of what humans can do to each other shouldn’t have made the final cut, only that the finished product was stronger in the style of Precious based on the novel Push by Sapphire or Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. 

I also wish that the editing would have been tighter and that actors have been given more time to shine in their roles because that’s where I think the film falls short. The thing that kept me watching and the reason that I say that some people might still enjoy this film is because it tells the story of the Armenian people who are so often forgotten in history.  

It tells the story of people who were almost completely wiped out and the ways in which they banded together and fought their oppressors. It also tells the story of the outsiders who reached out to help people in need. 

Those parts of the story were somewhat uplifting but I walked away from the cinema with a heavy heart, so bring tissues and someone to hold you tight if you go see this at the cinema. I would also add that if you like your romances with a lot of heartbreak then this is for you, but if you’re more of a happy ending person then maybe rent something else and stay away. 

Is this a film that I recommend all cinophiles go see? No, probably not. Only go watch this if you’re a big fan of one of the three leads or really want to learn more about the Armenian genocide. 

Viewers with a keen musical ear will hear that the song played during the closing credits of the film was done by the late Chris Cornell. The music video for the song – which was released after his death -  was the last that the late singer ever made.