As the largest film production ever to deal with the World War I-era Armenian genocide, The Promise takes on a serious issue with the appropriate level of seriousness. Seriousness is about all this dull, ponderous movie has going for it, though, as the filmmakers’ efforts to build an old-fashioned sweeping romance around a historical atrocity fall far short. Oscar Isaac plays Mikael Boghosian, an Armenian medical student in Constantinople at the outbreak of the war, who endures terrible hardships as he attempts to save his family from extermination by the Turkish military. While in Constantinople, he falls in love with Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), a fellow Armenian and a world-traveling artist who is in a relationship with American reporter Chris Myers (Christian Bale).
The perfunctory love triangle isn’t compelling enough to carry the movie, but it’s almost always front and center, with the genocide serving as a backdrop for a gooey romance among three generically good-hearted people. Chris, who gets drunk once and is occasionally belligerent, comes closest to having flaws, but Bale’s mumbly performance is as terrible as his ridiculous facial hair. The dialogue by director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) and co-writer Robin Swicord is clunky and full of exposition (and is delivered by an international cast with a jumble of accents), the score by Gabriel Yared is syrupy and overbearing, and the CGI vistas are often distractingly fake-looking. The producers (including the late Las Vegas casino mogul Kirk Kerkorian, an Armenian-American who financed the entire $100 million production himself) have good intentions in shining a light on a historical injustice, but the drama fails to live up to them.