Review / ‘The Promise’ (M) *** and a half

“HOTEL Rwanda” (2004) told a story about a genocide. Now its maker Terry George visits the same theme in Turkey in 1914, when that country was about to join Germany against the allied powers.

The Ottoman Empire had a mixture of ethnicities – Jewish, Armenian, Greek as well as Turkish. Terry George’s film looks at the diaspora of a group of Armenians displaced for causes that it illustrates rather than explains.

Carrying on the family’s apothecary business in a small rural town, Mikael (Oscar Isaac) wants to become a doctor. He is betrothed to Maral whose dowry will finance his studies in Constantinople. There he meets Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), daughter of the family in whose house he lodges. Times are becoming difficult for ethnic minorities. American journalist Chris (Christian Bale) is beginning to get offside with the army because of his reports of what they don’t want him to report.

The film follows Mikael back to his home where he marries Maral and goes to live in the forest. But even that isolation is not safe. The army is sweeping the European side of the country and forcing minorities into slavery. Building a railway under army supervision, Mikael escapes and joins a fleeing Armenian community. Ana is among them. Chris is reporting on their flight.

There’s more to “The Promise” than that preliminary outline. The staging is convincing. The cast is convincing. The military encounters look real. The impressive locations in Portugal and Spain are credible. The plot’s emotional argument is persuasive without becoming mawkish. In all, a film worth seeing for its effort to deliver cinematic verity as much as for its underlying message.

At Palace Electric, Hoyts Belconnen and Dendy

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