Monday 8 May 2017

Film: 'The Promise'

Heavy stuff, this. I'd been misled by several reviews complain-ing that the romance between characters played by Oscar Isaac and Charlotte Le Bon (who is also Christian Bale's character's  parallel love interest) ill-advisedly eclipses the historical events taking place. I didn't find it so at all. Actually I thought the film engrossing and educational though, it must be said, with some harrowing scenes of brutality (mainly within a 30-60 mins in section of this 2+ hours film) more distressing than I've seen in any film for several years, and belying the fact that the film has been accorded a mere  '12A' certificate in the U.K.  

It's a subject I don't recall ever being seen treated in a feature film before - the apparently well-documented massacre of Armenian Orthodox Christians by Turkish forces in the early 20th century which, ever since then and even now, the Turkish government brands as 'lies' (or should that be 'fake news' or even 'alternative facts'?) led by that veritable 'champion' of a 'free'-press, Recep Erdogan  - as long as it doesn't criticise him, otherwise it's unpatriotic and subversive, and therefore criminal! (I understand that this 'respected' leader has the approval of 'The Donald'. Now there's a surprise!)

I'd heard that detractors of the film have attempted to sabotage IMDb's rating system by an en masse registering of a minimum rating of 1/10 for this film. (What's the betting that hardly any one of them have actually seen it?). Despite that minimum possible score currently being submitted by 44% of 'viewers' the film still manages to achieve an average rating of 5.9, which is good going, though it must be said that a very high proportion of the remainder have, as a reaction, similarly given it a max score of 10/10, which it hardly deserves, though I can fully understand their ploy.

The film's action begins just before the outbreak of the First World War, an opening caption helpfully mentioning the imminent collapse of "the Ottoman Turk(!) Empire". (Obviously written by someone with a Trump-like grasp of history!)
Oscar Isaac, spouting a generic, pan-European foreign accent, is an Armenian medical student in rural Turkey while Christian Bale is an American investigative reporter based in (then) Constantinople with pretty Charlotte Le Bon in tow, the latter and Isaac immediately falling for each other at first sight, with Bale suspecting that something or other is going on and, naturally, disapproves.

It's the first time I've seen Oscar Isaac in a role that's sensitive and restrained (sometimes painfully so) throughout, and he manages it very well. Up to now he's always seemed to have played abrasive, even threatening, characters,  but here he's a bit of a tame pussy cat. 
It's likewise different for Christian Bale. Not the usual larger-than-life figure he normally inhabits, but here a more ruminative individual, still with a slight menace about him, but rather more profound and better-rounded, even if he does end up playing second fiddle to Isaac.
Also popping up in the cast in minor roles are the pleasing inclusions of Jean Reno, James Cromwell and Tom Hollander.

We see the persecutions and violent attacks on the Armenians by the Turks, their being dragged off (presumably to death), the forced labour camps with starving prisoners, some near-skeletal, the execution squads etc, none of which is easy to watch. I found myself grimacing on several occasions - those times when I could bear to look at the screen, that is.

I was very impressed indeed with direction (George Terry, who has also written some classic screenplays, most notably 'In the Name of the Father' of 1993) as well as photography. The scenery looks epic-like in scale, though I did sometimes feel the script could have done with a bit of perking up.
Music is not intrusive, and the film as a whole, though maybe a tad over-long, was never monotonous.
Oh, and by the way, if like me you positively drool over Mr Isaac when he sports a bushy beard (as he did in 'Inside Llewyn Davis', and even moreso in 'Ex Machina'), you're in luck as he does wear one in the middle of this film for a while. Shame that it's otherwise, and for other reasons, also the hardest part of the film to watch. 

Summing up, this is much better than I'd though it would be, though I do repeat my warning of some difficult scenes....................7.

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