Terry George's The Promise, a handsome but lumpish film whose creators are too honest to lie to us about individual heroism, has the rare good fortune of turning up in theaters just weeks after another film showed how necessary a movie like this is. The second star-driven war-adventure film of 2017 to set a cross-cultural love triangle against the horror of the Armenian Genocide, The Promise would outclass its forerunner, The Ottoman Lieutenant, even if it weren't manifestly better in its story and acting.
George and Robin Swicord have also built their screenplay around three conflicted lovers (played by Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon and Christian Bale), but here the history (thankfully) overwhelms the romance. Nobody in The Promise has to point out that their love problems don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, because that crazy world is forever trying to kill them and everyone they care about. Rather than sweat over who's crushing on whom, the protagonists endeavor to survive, offer aid to refugees and let the world know the truth about a campaign of mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians.
As drama and spectacle, it's not quite first-rate -- I rarely feared for these characters or believed that I knew their souls, and George is too much of a humanist to wring real-life tragedy for cineplex suspense. But as a moral corrective and a call to decency it moved me. How rare is it that so much movie money has been spent on not killing, on demonstrating -- here through a corny yet moving coda -- that, in a crisis, acts of kindness shape the world for the better for generations to come?