A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Promise is an earnest but disturbing wartime drama about the Armenian genocide in Turkey during World War I. Scenes depict graphic atrocities, hangings, beatings, street riots, burning buildings, mass graves full of women and children, execution-style killings, and other brutal, intense images. There's also some drinking (sometimes to excess) and kissing, as well as implied sex (no graphic nudity); language is very infrequent, but there is one use each of "s--t" and "hell." While it's not easy to watch, the movie does show how war can prompt some people to rise to the occasion, demonstrate courage, and work to save innocents. Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac, and Charlotte Le Bon star.
What's the story?
On the eve of World War I, THE PROMISE's Mikael (Oscar Isaac) leaves his village in Armenia to go to medical school in Constantinople. But when the Ottoman Empire enters the conflict, it becomes clear that one of its goals is to eradicate Mikael's countrymen. The army starts rounding up Armenians, killing women and children and using the men as slave labor. Mikael manages to escape from a work camp and meets an American reporter, Chris (Christian Bale), who's helping escort Armenian orphans to safety. Together, they try to help the remaining survivors from Mikael's village. Meanwhile, Mikael, who's engaged, falls for a beautiful Armenian artist, Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), with whom Chris is also enamored.
Is it any good?
Perhaps it's unfair to saddle a film that clearly has high aspirations with even higher expectations, but this drama simply doesn't live up to its, yes, promise. With a cast that includes top-notch actors like Bale, Isaac, and Shohreh Aghdashloo (who plays Mikael's mother) and with an important slice of history to shine a light on, it really ought to be better than it is.
What works? The acting, first and foremost; the talented ensemble brings to life a massive, brutal conflict that, to this day, many people still don't know nearly enough about. Also the cinematography, which frames this historical moment in an epic-yet-human scale. But the script, which spends too much time on the characters' love triangle vs. the wartime chaos and genocide, creates an imbalance from which The Promise, already overlong, can't quite recover.
Talk to your kids about ...
What role does the movie's love story play? Did you find it distracting from the main plot, or did it help humanize an epic war?
- In theaters: April 21, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: July 18, 2017
- Cast: Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon
- Director: Terry George
- Studio: Open Road Films
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 132 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic material including war atrocities, violence and disturbing images, and for some sexuality
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