TIFF: The Promise

History is written by the victors. Turkey has denied – or worse, refused to acknowledge at all – the Ottoman empire’s systematic extermination of 1.5 million Armenians. What better way to commemorate a genocide than with a bland and basic love triangle, amirite?

I don’t want to make light of this sad historical time, but I feel like that’s what this romantic epic does. Jeez Louise I feel dirty even writing that, and yet here we are.


It’s 1914. An Armenian druggist, Michael (Oscar Isaac), gets engaged to local girl Maral in order to afford medical school. Off he goes to Constantinople where a)he promptly falls in love with the beautiful Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) who’s of course already attached to a journalist, Chris (Christian Bale) and b)Turkey starts slaughtered Armenians, forcing both Ana and Michael to run for their lives.

This is the first big Hollywood film to be made about this atrocity, and it took years to get it made. It was financed by Kirk Kerkorian, whose family survived the genocide. To get The Promise just right, he brought in powerhouse writer, Robin Swicord (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Memoirs of a Geisha) and director Terry George (Reservation Road, Hotel Rwanda) and together they managed to water down a very powerful story in order to broaden its appeal. The genocide becomes the backdrop to a love story, and not a very compelling one. Even love takes a backseat when survival is at stake. Plus, it puts the promise-03viewer in an awkward position: in order to root for our two heroes to get together, Chris and Maral, who’ve done nothing wrong, will have to die. That seems excessive, doesn’t it?

It’s beautifully, lavishly shot, easily appreciated since the violence is somehow de-emphasized. You can almost see the compromises they’ve made – by aiming for a lower rating, they’ve effectively neutered the film. The acting, however, is its saving grace. All three put in amazing performances. Oscar Isaac has been so consistent lately, and here he even nails the accent.

Yes, it’s melodramatic. The music alone will convince you of that. But it’s a tolerable watch, and, I’d argue, an important one. Since little is known about this ugly chapter in the 20th century, our attention is overdue.


27 thoughts on “TIFF: The Promise

  1. Jay Post author

    Angela Sarafyan: I’m a huge fan of Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac. Most of my stuff is with Oscar and it’s so much fun working with him. We kind of had the freedom to find what we wanted to do in each scene. [Oscar] is charming, generous, kind, thoughtful — all the things you’re looking for in a guy.

    Charlotte Le Bon: [Oscar Isaac] is really, really intense but he’s also very funny. He’s kind of two different people. On set he’s this intense, rigid and square person — the way he works is really precise — and outside the set he’s really funny. He’s just a guy you want to have a beer and hang out with.

    Shohre Aghdashloo: Oscar [Isaac] is a dear friend of mine. While we were doing Nativity together in Morocco eight years ago, we both said, ‘Let’s do a play together.’ So he said, ‘How about Hamlet, and you’ll play my mother?’ So I said, ‘Where are we going to perform this?’ And he said, ‘Central Park in New York.’ I’m like, ‘I’m not going to take you to a park with all the girls! They’re going to tear you apart! Are you out of your mind?! Let’s find a stage to do it on.’ But it didn’t happen. So when I arrived at the hotel in Portugal [where we were filming The Promise], Oscar came to greet me and we were kissing and hugging each other and jumping up and down and saying, ‘This is even better than Hamlet!


  2. ruth

    When I saw the trailer, I thought hmmm, well it looks like a film worth seeing only for the cast. It’s good that Hollywood is finally bringing this important historical story to light, but the love triangle thing seems to be a distraction. In any case, I’m still up for seeing this though.


    1. NickH

      Did the Schindler’s List, Sophie’s Choice, The Pianist, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, to name a few, all go down well with Germans? How about Fiddler on the Roof with Russians? or The Bridge on the River Kwai and Unbroken? did they go down well with the Japanese people? It’s time for the Turks to accept their own Crimes…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Katrina Morrison

    This is a start. Hopefully, more writers will take advantage of the 1000s of individual stories that could be told from this. I don’t know if this is true; but, I heard that actors were not paid for making this movie and profits made go to a charity. Like I said, I am not sure about this. Maybe, someone else knows for sure.


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  5. Benn Bell

    Just caught this film. Don’t know how it escaped my radar. I rather liked it but I must admit to being a sap for sappy love stories. Armenian genocide an important topic. Enjoyed your write-up.



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