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MOVIE REVIEW

The Promise also known as “La promesa,” “A Promessa,” “Az ígéret,” “Przyrzeczenie”

MPAA Rating: PG-13-Rating (MPAA) for thematic material including war atrocities, violence and disturbing images, and for some sexuality.

Reviewed by: Hay Krisdonia
CONTRIBUTOR

Better than Average
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults Teens
Genre:
Action War History Romance Drama
Length:
2 hr. 12 min.
Year of Release:
2017
USA Release:
April 21, 2017 (wide—2,251 theaters)
DVD: July 18, 2017
Copyright, Open Road Films click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Open Road Films Copyright, Open Road Films Copyright, Open Road Films
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Open Road Films

Armenia and Turkey in the Bible

Copyright, Open Road Films

PERSECUTION—Why and how should we pray for suffering Christians? Answer

Genocide

The Armenian genocide (Wikipedia)

Other feature films about the Armenian Genocide: • “Ararat” (2002) • “The Cut” • “The Lark Farm” • “Mother”

genocides in history (Wikipedia)

genocide denialism

Copyright, Open Road Films
Issue of pain and suffering

Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer

Does God feel our pain? Answer

ORIGIN OF BAD—How did bad things come about? Answer

Copyright, Open Road Films

Did God make the world the way it is now? What kind of world would you create? Answer

Copyright, Open Road Films

What is the Biblical perspective on war? Answer

death in the Bible

• justice • justice of God • Just One • final judgment

Copyright, Open Road Films

TRUE LOVE—What is true love and how do you know when you have found it? Answer

Copyright, Open Road Films
Featuring: Oscar IsaacMikael Boghosian, a medical student
Christian BaleChris Myers, an American journalist (Associated Press)
Charlotte Le Bon … Ana Khesarian, an Armenian raised in Paris
James CromwellAmbassador Henry Morgenthau
Jean RenoFrench Admiral Fournet
Daniel Giménez Cacho … Reverend Dikran Antreassian
Shohreh Aghdashloo … Marta Boghosian
Marwan Kenzari … Emre Ogan
Angela Sarafyan … Maral
Tom Hollander … Garin
See all »
Director: Terry George—“Hotel Rwanda
Producer: Survival Pictures
Wonderful Films
See all »
Distributor: Open Road Films

“1915, Ottoman Turkey,” these words put a lump in the throat of almost any Armenian you find across the globe. It is the terrible memory of the first genocide of the 21st century where 1.5 million Armenians, mostly Christian, perished under systematic deportation and mass killings. It is a wound that even now, 102 years later has not been healed because of its horrors and the continuous denial of the Turkish government and most of the influential countries.

This is the backdrop of “The Promise” movie, directed by Academy Award winning filmmaker Terry George (“Hotel Rwanda”) that had to be independently funded because of political pressures against its production. It is the first movie of its kind to involve major stars like Academy Award® winner Christian Bale, Golden Globe winner Oscar Isaac and César nominee Charlotte Le Bon.

The story centers around a wartime love triangle. There is Mikael Boghosian (Isaac), an Armenian apothecary living in a small Armenian village called Siroun, where Turkish Muslims and Armenian Christians have lived side by side for centuries. He plans to travel to Constantinople to study modern medicine and come back to serve his people. He is betrothed to Maral (it looks like an arranged engagement) and will use her dowry to pay for his studies and promises to return in two years’ time.

Upon arriving in Constantinople, he plunges into another culture. He stays at the house of his rich uncle and there meets Ana, a Paris-educated Armenian teacher who gives dance lessons to his young nieces. Mikael and Ana quickly begin to fall for each other, but, much to his dismay, Mikael soon meets Ana’s boyfriend Chris Myers (Bale), a devoted American journalist who enjoys drinking and exposing political truth.

Tension is building. Mikael has a promise to keep to Maral, although he does not love her, and Ana has to figure out how to deal with Chris, whose drinking and attitude has been annoying her for some time. But something bigger than their love story is happening.

At the dawn of World War I, hostilities against Armenians are on the rise. “It is not safe for our people” is an expression Mikael repeatedly cites, and he is right. Their own lives, the lives of their families and that of all Armenians in Turkey are on the line.

On April 24, 1915, Armenian intellectuals, statesmen, poets, businessmen and clergy are arrested, executed or exiled. Men, women and children are driven outside of their homes, massacred or forced to march across the desert. Chris passionately reports what he sees happening to Armenians and minority Christians. Mikael is arrested. Ana joins an American missionary orphanage and helps care for the wounded.

Through a miraculous twist, Mikael finds himself back in Siroun and faces the test of keeping his promise to Maral. But these are times of a greater Promise. That of survival, of helping loved ones and the orphans move to a village called Musa Dagh, so that a French warship may hopefully save them…

“The Promise” portrays the Armenian Genocide with historical honesty. In order to accomplish that, depicting violence is almost inevitable. Although director Terry George presents most of the violence off-screen (same approach he uses in his other movies), and the movie passes with a PG-13 rating, still, the actual barbarism may well disturb younger or sensitive viewers.

There is quite graphic anatomy-learning autopsy scene in medical school. Later on hanged bodies of men are shown, people die by getting shot, they get burned in trains and endure explosion. In another emotional scene, dead bodies of loved ones are piled up in a village. While most of these are shown through remote camera angles, the implied violence very real to the viewer. At times, off-screen violence is verbally described by characters, like how perpetrators cut the wombs of pregnant women and take out their babies.

The movie suffers a few profanities and several misuses of God’s name. Various forms of alcoholic beverages are consumed and one character is almost drunk. There is a bar scene where loosely dressed women dance. There’s also an extramarital love making scene (the woman’s bra is briefly seen), which, in my opinion, was unnecessary to the plot and could have been omitted.

Putting those few negative elements aside, the acting is convincing and the filmmaking quality is very good. Positive uplifting messages are many. Mikael does everything in his power to save his family and suffering people he encounters. Chris, despite having conflicting interests, risks his life to save Mikael and his family. He courageously reports the truth of the genocide and does not blow the cover of his Ottoman sources.

Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

Did God make the world the way it is now? What kind of world would you create? Answer

Another positive element is that the movie does not convey hatred towards the Turkish people. Along with hard-hearted officials, it portrays Turkish characters who care for the welfare of the Armenians. A high-ranking officer leaks information to save a Christian camp from slaughter. Another character tries to save the lives of his friends on many occasions, even sacrificing his life for them at the end.

“The Promise” is not a Christian movie, but the uplifting Christian witness of the Armenian people is well communicated. Priests and pastors join hands to lead, protect and pray with the people. Armenians raise their cries to God, and, despite their tremendous suffering, they do not abandon their faith and commitment to Jesus Christ. Now that is the ultimate Promise!

“If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us” (2 Timothy 2:12).

Also interestingly the movie does not try to provoke feelings of revenge, which is the normal human response. At one point, Mikael is filled with anger and says to Ana “I want revenge.” “Our revenge will be to survive,” replies Ana. This is an important Christian message. “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord (Romans 12:19).

In conclusion, I believe “The Promise” is a great film to watch if one can handle the moderate to heavy violence. Folks, this is no fiction. As a descendant of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, I myself have personally heard these horrifying stories from first-hand witnesses within my family who had miraculously survived these atrocities. There are thousands of documented accounts of these events (mostly from American Protestant missions) that include heartbreaking, yet inspiring stories of Christian martyrdom.

If you are not a Christian or have a different worldview, think for a moment that seeing and encouraging this movie will help raise genocide awareness and prevent such horrors for all people in the future. The world needs zealous “reporters” like Chris Meyers who do not stay idle in front of evil, but act by saying, “Without reporters, the Armenian people would disappear, and no one would know.”

If you are a Christian, I pray this movie will inspire you and help you have a richer vision of unity with suffering fellow Christians. Christian persecution is by no means a thing of the past! Genocidal acts are realities happening now in the Middle East and around the world. We have a common enemy, but also a common Savior.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:10-12).

Let us keep The Promise!

Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

PERSECUTION—What does the Bible teach about persecution? How should we pray for suffering Christians? Answer


Editor’s Note: In 301 A.D., “Armenia became the first state in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion.” Its earlier churches are believed to have been established by 2 of Christ’s 12 disciples/apostlesBartholomew and Judas Thaddaeus (also known as Jude). In the 1800s, “the Christian population of the [Ottoman] empire, owing to their higher educational levels, started to pull ahead of the Muslim majority, leading to much resentment on the part of the latter.” (source: Wikipedia) “Muslims’ resentment of Armenians’ economic and political successes—a reversal of traditional Ottoman social hierarchies that had Muslims superior to non-Muslims—and to a growing sense on the part of Young Turk leaders and ordinary Muslims that Armenians were an alien and dangerous element within their society.” (Ronald Grigor Suny, Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Beginning in 1915, most Armenian Christians, plus Greek and Assyrian Christians in the land were systematically exterminated. The vast majority of the Armenians were either Apostolic, Protestant, or Catholic. “By the end of the war, more than 90 percent of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were gone, and many traces of their former presence had been erased. The deserted homes and property of the Armenians in Eastern Anatolia were given to Muslim refugees, and surviving women and children were often forced to give up their Armenian identities and convert to Islam.” (Ronald Grigor Suny, Encyclopaedia Britannica)

The writer/director of “The Promise” says Armenian holocaust denier trolls released fake review ratings of his film on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes hijacking the ratings. After just 3 public showings, there were suddenly 55,126 1-star ratings on IMDB. “Basically what happened was either 55,000 Turks decided to vote having not seen the movie, or someone installed a bot to continually inflate that number,” he said. “I think that’s the history of Turkey with this story for the past hundred years. …I think the strategy unfortunately works to some extent because it’s confusing and distracting to people and throwing up smokescreens.”

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive
Positive—“The Promise” is a well written motion picture about an atrocity that has rarely been talked about, and well worth investigating the history of. The acting is first-rate, the writing is crisp, and the directing is sharp. Some scenes might remind viewers of the 1993 film “Schindler’s List,” which is probably just as bad, if not worse than, the Armenian Genocide, and the plot bears a few similarities to the 1965 classic “Doctor Zhivago” (one of the differences here is that the sin is shown in somewhat more detail than the aforementioned cinematic photoplay).

Biblically-speaking, there is some violence, but most of it is not graphic, though there are some disturbing images of wounded; there is one use of the s-word after a comical and nasty situation, but, refreshingly, no swearing (the Lord’s Name being taken in vain).

There is one scene of fornication, which eschews nudity, while showing some passionate kissing that could have been implied instead of shown. “The Promise” is a good motion picture that takes its place with “Schindler’s List” and “The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas,” as a stark reminder of horrors that should never be repeated. I recommend the pictures I mentioned in this review. “The Promise” is rated PG-13.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
D, age 31 (USA)

PLEASE share your observations and insights to be posted here.

Movie Critics
…powerful epic set against one of history’s darkest moments… Old-fashioned filmmaking to its core, “The Promise” is simply the kind of movie Hollywood is not interested in making anymore…
Pete Hammond, Deadline
…captivating, surprising, edge-of-your-seat history… a very powerful historical epic because it keeps surprising the audience with new twists, turns and intensified jeopardy… [4]
Ted Baehr, Movieguide
…a very good story. …The trailer for “The Promise” doesn’t do this movie justice. …“The Promise” an important history lesson…
Mary Cox, The Telegraph
“The Promise” delivers on its assurance… a very somber affair, bolstered by Javier Aguirresarobe's luscious cinematography and a sumptuous score by Gabriel Yared, but the performances are what truly stand out the most. …[4/5]
James McDonald, Irish Film Critic
…One nice thing about [writer/director Terry] George is that when he takes on a subject, he doesn’t flinch or back down about the truths he needs to convey. …George is determined to make his story as much about the dead as about the fictional survivors. It’s in that respect that “The Promise” earns its unsettling honor. [3]
Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com
…combines a fictional story of thwarted love with the historical truth of genocide… ultimately, the tension between romance and history is what keeps The Promise from being a great film. It’s a powerful and important tale to be sure, but the love triangle keeps pulling us away from the politics. …
Chris Knight, National Post [Canada]
…as a moral corrective and a call to decency it moved me. …a handsome but lumpish film whose creators are too honest to lie to us about individual heroism. …
Alan Scherstuhl, Miami New Times
…It is a human catastrophe that hasn't often been addressed on screen, but finally gets its own, old-school drama in the international film “The Promise” …A bit rushed and shortchanged, it's the rare film that could have used another hour. …
Stephen Whitty, ArtiSyndicate
…Solemn, sweeping, and achingly sincere, The Promise feels like a film paved with good intentions: a classic war picture whose worthy message gets swallowed nearly whole by broad strokes storytelling and stock romantic melodrama. …[C+]
Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly