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. Oscar Isaac stars as Michael, an ambitious young apothecary in the last days of the Ottoman Empire who dreams of leaving his small village for medical school in Constantinople. The dowry from his engagement to a local girl he hardly knows (Westworld’s Angela Sarafyan) provides the means, and the introduction of his new host’s lovely governess, Ana (Charlotte Le Bon, a Renaissance Madonna in a petticoat), ensures that life there will involve more than monklike studies and bladder dissections.
She has her own entanglements: a garrulous American reporter (Christian Bale, glowering beneath a Colonel Sanders beard) who works hard to hold on to her waning affections when he’s not busy sending Continental dispatches back home and drunkenly antagonizing government officials at garden parties. The outbreak of WWI, and the subsequent cleansing of ethnic Armenians — a genocide the Turkish government has still not officially recognized — allows director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) to pivot to a sort of bloody, compressed history lesson. But even lush set pieces and a raft of prestige players (including Shohreh Aghdashloo, James Cromwell, and Jean Reno) can’t fulfill the movie’s pretty, ultimately empty promise. C+