THE PROMISE brings together heavy hitters Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale, a screen pairing many would be salivating to see. Kernel Jack reviews below and I will leave it all for him to talk about. THE PROMISE is out June 15th in Australia from Entertainment One. It is rated M and runs for 133mins. Enjoy Jack’s thoughts……..all the best…….JK.


Two undeniably big names in Hollywood at the moment are Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale. They’ve both starred in a number of Hollywood blockbusters, making a name for themselves with most of the general audience, but also capable of giving terrific, resonating performances in smaller films. Now, for the first time, the two heavy hitters have joined forces for a movie that, surprisingly, went under a lot of people’s radar overseas. Despite its terrific lead cast members, THE PROMISE is a film barely anyone knows even exists, myself included, until I saw a poster of it while overseas recently. But its lack of public awareness, while certainly disappointing for a film of this caliber, isn’t all that disappointing. A film with as much talent as this one should be far better than what was delivered.


The Promise Oscar Isaac image
The Promise Oscar Isaac



Set during the last few years of the Ottoman Empire, THE PROMISE blends together true events with a fictitious story. The state of the world and the events transpiring are all true. The characters, and the heart wrenching love story they find themselves in, aren’t. We focus on Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac), an Armenian with aspirations of becoming a doctor. He leaves behind his home, family and wife-to-be (Angela Sarafyan) to attend a two-year medical course in Turkey, promising to return upon completion. Mikael’s life begins an upward climb. He befriends fellow medical student Emre Ogan (Marwan Kenzari), as well as fellow Armenian Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) and her American boyfriend, Chris Myers (Christian Bale).

Ana and Chris are visiting Turkey temporarily. Chris is a journalist, reporting on World War 1 to his higher-in-command co-workers back in Paris, while Ana is an artist, using the local landscapes and people as inspiration for her work. In their mingling, Mikael starts to slowly develop feelings for Ana. Their friendship becomes something more, developing a secret romance behind Chris’ back. But a dark turn of events soon befalls our three protagonists. An Armenian genocide is underway, forcing Mikael to work on a train track while Chris and Ana flee. Through an over-extended runtime and an ever-changing plot, we follow their story, as well as Emre’s, as they try to survive in a country that wants them dead, while also detailing the love triangle slowly brewing.


The Promise Christian Bale image
The Promise Christian Bale



The horrors of the Armenian genocide, something that really happened despite Turkey refusing to acknowledge its existence, are displayed in full. While the film isn’t without its flaws, which I will get into in a moment, its portrayal of the horrific event is shown with respect and sincerity for all involved. The Ottoman government killed an approximate 1.5 million Armenians during this time period. Their acts of savagery are displayed in full, told from the perspective of Mikael in a grueling, emotional journey of love and survival. Mikael’s experience in the war is brutal, forced into scenarios he desperately tries to avoid and consequently witnessing the horrors of the genocide first hand.


The Promise Charlotte Le Bon & Oscar Isaac image
The Promise Charlotte Le Bon & Oscar Isaac



Oscar Isaac is truly tremendous as our lead character. His facial hair changes five times throughout the course of the movie, something only a true actor would ever dare do. Isaac’s performance demands a lot from him as an actor, more so than having to make X-MEN: APOCALYPSE’s embarrassing dialogue sound natural (which he succeeded in doing as the man can do no wrong). A scene in a forest, late into the second act, showcases his wide range of emotion and determination, armed with a fierceness that’s able to elevate the scene as a whole. He sells this character well. You understand his mindset merely by the expressions Isaac brings out, creating a complex and deeply tormented man doing whatever he can to remain alive and help the people he loves.

For his first handful of scenes, something about Christian Bale’s performance felt out of place. His character is established in an exposition-filled, highly uninteresting dinner scene that doesn’t even focus on his character. Initially, he’s portrayed as somewhat of an alcoholic dick, alluding to the obvious complications between himself and Ana, who is portrayed fabulously by Charlotte Le Bon. As time passes by, I didn’t necessarily start caring for Bale’s character, but his story intrigued me. It held my attention. This is especially relevant to the film’s third act, which sees him taking on a more dominant role in the overall story. His final scenes end the story on somewhat of a down note, but not in the way you’d expect, and Bale delivers when the script demands him to.


The Promise Christian Bale & Oscar Isaac image
The Promise Christian Bale & Oscar Isaac



This does, unfortunately, bring me to my gripes with THE PROMISE, and I have quite a few of them. It’s a movie that severely lacks in focus. Clocking in at over two hours, screenwriters Terry George and Robin Swicord fail to blend together their countless story arcs. Important plot elements are skimmed over, sub-plots feel needlessly complicated, and there are far too many supporting characters to count, many of who are introduced as a big, important figure, only to be forgotten about soon after. A big element of the story revolves around Mikael’s uncle, who’s taken away in the genocide. There’s a great deal of screen time dedicated to his family worrying about him, refusing to leave until they know if he’s safe or not. We never find out. He’s lost in time, like tears in the rain (BLADE RUNNER 2049 hype anyone?).

What does take the centre stage is the love story between our three leads, but honestly, calling it a love story feels like a bit of an overstatement. Mikael and Ana share plenty of screen time, but their romantic attachment to one another is rarely shown. There’s the occasional mention throughout, and it’s shown developing early on, but they spend more time discussing how they can’t love one another than they do actually loving one another. A moment late in the game, during a time where tragedy strikes, is meant to work as satisfying payoff to their story, but it doesn’t hit all the right chords. It’s never developed enough to make for an investing aspect of the plot, especially when the dark, moving war story is playing concurrently.


The Promise Oscar Isaac image
The Promise Oscar Isaac



There is a great movie hiding somewhere in THE PROMISE. It’s there, waiting for its moment to rush out into the spotlight. It just fails to reach the surface. I really wish I could tell you that you need to see THE PROMISE. I wish I could describe as a movie worthy of bringing together its two leads. In some regards it is, but as a whole, it fails to meet their very obvious talent. You won’t regret watching this movie; it’s certainly not bad, it’s just unremarkable in almost every way.





When he’s not spending an embarrassing amount of hours browsing through Netflix, Jack Dignan dedicates his time to reviewing movies of all genres and languages. He has done so since 2012. He also maintains a website of his own – – and ever since their interview, he’s been best friends with Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino just doesn’t know it yet. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.


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