Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating 9/10
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale, Marwan Kenzari, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Angela Sarafyan, Tom Hollander, Numan Acar, Milene Mayer, Igal Naor, Tamer Hassan, Alicia Borrachero, Abel Folk, Jean Reno, James Cromwell, Kevork Malikyan.
You may believe you know a story, you may bury it in the past in an effort to move on, to think that humanity has learned its lessons and we have become more attuned to dealing with the atrocities a nation can inflict upon its people, on another group of people just because they are different, because they pray a different way, because their customs are not your own, that they perhaps are more successful so bitter jealousy comes into play; humanity never learns, humanity keeps repeating the same sense of the damned and inexcusable and it is a lesson sharply delivered in The Promise.
The Promise is one of those films that hits you right where you least expect it, that the anger can rise up from your stomach and have you understanding more about humanity than you would probably ever envisage and yet it is a film which has its tenderness, its sensitivity in amongst the raw and gut turning rage; a film that requires stout heart and a box of tissues in abundance.
Reflecting upon the genocide that took place in Turkey as the authorities took advantage of the outbreak of the First World War, the systemic extermination of the Armenian people and a terrible forewarning of what was to fall across Europe less than 25 years late, The Promise is a love story set against the barbarity of war, of humanity’s inability to live without suspicion or hatred of their neighbour and the unforgivable act of murder of another group of people.
It is a love story captured wonderfully by the presence of its three main leads, Oscar Isaac, who on this performance will surely be included in the list come award season, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale and Marwan Kenzari, a story that has at its heart the same passion and willing to do the noble thing as the classic Casablanca and one that gives hope in amongst the most intolerable of actions by a country.
Yet the love triangle is only a small part of the wider picture, it is the harrowing scenes of a group of Turkish men rampaging through the capital and setting fire to Armenian owned shops, of the military unsubtly choosing fit and able men in which to dispose of; all these actions a shadow of the fullest horror to come, the dispensing and removal of any set of people from the face of the Earth. The anger rises because it has never been properly addressed, that it has never been truly accounted for and one that perhaps never shall.
With superb performance by the cast, including Tom Hollander as a children’s clown caught up in the camps, The Promise is a truly must see film, it will upset you, it will make you angry but sometimes we have to be shown a truth in which to know we, hopefully, could not stand by and let this happen again.
Ian D. Hall