“The Promise”

The thirty-eight year old Guatemalan-American actor, Oscar Isaac, can not do much wrong in this reviewer’s eyes. The camera loves him, too. But the one scene in “The Promise” that will stay with every viewer is the tear rolling down the cheek of that dark-eyed and heavily browed face of his. His face can master any emotion, and staring in the first American film to be  made about the 1915 Armenian genocide gives that face full play.

Filmed like the 1960’s epic ” Dr. Zivago”, he is our Omar Sharif, but with more conscience and a sweeter, cerebral passion. As Mikael Boghosian, a Turkish-Armenian apothecary, Isaac ‘s emotive eyes glint with medical ambition. He promises to marry a sweet village girl for a dowery of 400 gold coins. He will then have the funds to travel to Constantinople and study at The Imperical. His fiancée, Maral ( Angela Sarafyan ) and he will come to love each other.

Once we find Mikael in Constantinople at his uncle’s villa and see his visceral response to the worldly Algerian, Ana ( Charlotte Le Bon ), who teaches his young cousins dance and Parisian songs, we are ready for another love triangle, commensurate with the one in ” The Ottoman’s Lieutenant” ( reviewed here March 14, 2017 ). This Turkish funded film does not address the genocide of the Armenians, while ” The Promise” angerly asserts the inhumanity of Talaat Pasha, the Turkish minister. The grand visier of the Ottoman Empire is a war criminal in this film.

The cinematography of Javier Aquirresrobe with its unique manipulation of light from the close-ups of an emerald green money pouch to the reeds near a stream will enthrall. Narrow paths, donkey rides, and beautiful vistas are a respite from the scenes of carnage. His balanced eye and romantic flare serve ” The Promise” well. His overhead shots are amazingly beautiful.

One of the most harrowing scenes is Mikael’s escape on the roof of train cars carrying Armenian villagers to be exterminated. The Holocaust analogy is clearly made.

Director Terry George does equally well with a rather poor script. The dialogue oft seems out of era, for example, Ana’s ” I need to sort things out with Chris. ” Or Maral ‘s father’s ” After the wedding, you will head for the hills…” Likewise, Christian Bales seems a tad out of place as the American journalist. He does well with adventuresome and abrasive, but not so well with wooden dialogue like, ” I wish to go with the orphans to record this for prosperity.”

Secondary actors make a strong presence in ” The Promise”. Aaron Neil is a villainous Pasha; Marwan Kenzari, a friend for all ages. Shohreh Aghdashloo is moving and almost biblical as Mikael’s mother, Marta. Firelight confessions, vengeful thoughts, true friendship and shared loves all converge.

The beautiful score by Gabriel Yared merges with actual 1915 photos to pummel the viewers with epic emphasis. “There are no words”, only echoes.

Viewers will not forget Oscar Isaac’s horrendous grief scenes. Nor will they forget the lies. ” There is no war here. Merely, a reassignment to a safer region.” Even, the vizier’s blatant grab at his victim’s insurance money ring of modern evils. “The Promise” is a belated toast to Armenian survival at a little over two hours.

“Don’t Breathe”

Titles with imperatives seem to be the fad of late summer films. “Don’t Breathe” like the earlier reviewed film “Don’t Think Twice” may be nods to didactic school marms, or just school room distractions. Certainly, the slasher/ heist/revenge film set amid abandoned houses in Detriot offers admonishments to drop- outs: beware of the thug route to riches. There are great costs.

Three twenty -somethings  have incongruently joined forces to rob the wealthy by planning and executing home invasions. The girl, Rocky, ( Jane Levy)  has had a rocky start in life with an abusive mother who would lock her in a car trunk so mom could binge drink in peace. Rocky’s psychotic boyfriend , Money, has a dollar sign tattooed on his jugular. He smashes and defiles at whim. The last of the thuggish trio is Alex (Indiana-born Dylan Minnette).  He is besotted  with Rocky and is instrumental in providing easy access keys by way of  his father’s security guard job. Alex also is privy to the legal ramifications of major larceny etc… He is the only one measuring risks.

These three decide to target a blind Gulf  War vet ( Stephen Lang).  His six figure settlement has been publicized. His Buena Vista address is anything but. Somewhat of a recluse, he has lost his daughter in an car accident. And has a sick plan to compensate his loss. Secrets are discovered in the house and the genre turns upside down as the assailants become the trapped.

Camera work is everything in this genre. “Don’t Breathe” is at its best here.  I was sometimes distracted by the perfect camera pace and the exquisite cinematic lighting. Perfect shadows and light beams, as well as, the use of  darkness evens the score as the intruders can not see any more than the blind homeowner.

The suspense and tension are held, and the dog sequences are amazing and fresh. I hated the dialogue, which thankfully was sparse.  “You are strong. You will breed well.”  “Last man standing” is played out creepily.

The root cellar ladder, monster-like leg shadows, and a labyrinth of shelves, and a glass roofed skylight add to the duct crawling claustrophobia. The harness contraption and the turkey baster as sperm dispenser is adolescent. And as a vehicle for rationalizing a non-rape, stupid. The female as the most tortured sex is , also, getting old.

A ladybug metaphor with its “fly, fly away” allusion is used to maximum purpose, and a realistic “fence” tells our most crazed thief that if he wants money, he should steal money. Pawn shops may be  more risky, but  they are more lucrative.

Large gaps in the body count and too many sadistic encounters made me feel that Director Fede Alvarez was out-sourcing magic realism. I was lost with shoe counts, and a newly dressed victim being buried in septic tank sludge. Slasher films with a blond being dragged down the lane like a wheeled-suitcase suggest needed combat lessons, or a more enlightened trope.  The ending presumably evens the score, but here watching the beach-surf just deserves a big yawn.