There are few more horrific events in human history than the Armenian Genocide, in which more than 1.5 million Armenians were systematically executed or forced into mass deadly deportation by the Ottoman Empire starting on April 24, 1915. For more than a century since, their descendants have sought justice by asking nations worldwide to condemn the slaughter through officially calling it genocide.    

Their hope is to force Turkey, which was formed after the collapse of the Ottomans in 1923, to officially acknowledge the term as well and fully admit the evil that was perpetrated by the Empire. While 29 nations have supported the effort, the US government is not among them, due to political complications.

The film “The Promise,” released last Friday in advance of Armenian Remembrance Day on April 24, is a fresh reminder of the horrors that millions suffered. Much like “Titanic” used a fictional romance as a means of providing an emotional center for the tragic sinking of the legendary ocean liner, the movie uses a love triangle in an attempt to draw viewers in emotionally amid the epic scope of its horrors.

The film focuses on an Armenian apothecary named Mikael (Oscar Isaacs), who has become engaged in an arranged marriage in order to use the large dowry to pay for attending medical school. He dreams of being his village’s first modern doctor, but soon after moving in with his uncle in Constantinople, he meets and falls for a more glamorous Armenian woman named Ana (Charlotte LeBon), who is the girlfriend of an American reporter for the Associated Press named Chris (Christian Bale).

Tensions are already brewing between the ruling Ottomans and the Armenians upon his arrival, since Armenians are accused of being traitorous supporters of Russian forces in World War I, while the Ottomans sided with the Germans. The new conflict builds upon centuries of cultural and religious animosities between the Muslim Ottomans and the Christian Armenians, and when riots break out and his uncle is seized and executed by local officials, Mikael realizes that his entire populace is endangered

As he and Ana flee the riots, they take shelter in a hotel room and finally succumb to their brewing passion. Meanwhile, Chris is encountering the atrocities of destroyed villages, with men’s corpses hanging from trees and soldiers shooting random women and children while they are forced to embark on a deadly march out of the territory.

Mikael is captured and sent to a labor camp but manages to escape and return home to his village. His family forces him into the marriage that he had promised, creating a moral dilemma for him that worsens when he encounters Ana and Chris again while they are working to smuggle children out of the country through a Protestant mission.

While the romance helps provide a dramatic hook upon which to present the tragedies, the shocking aspects of “The Promise” provide its most powerful moments. Director Terry George expertly handled similarly tough territory with his 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda,” which covered the 1994 Rwandan genocide between two ethnic tribes in that African nation.

George provides stunning glimpses of starving men in labor camps, people packed like cattle into train cars en route to their eventual deaths, and callous shootings and beatings, yet handles them with a restraint that keeps them from being gruesomely exploitative. The romantic aspects, however, are often less compelling, occasionally coming off as soap opera material.

Isaacs is a compelling presence throughout, bringing great emotional depth and charisma to both the love story and his journey from idealistic intellectual to a man driven by principle to save as many of his people as possible. LeBon also provides a sympathetic and steely presence amid the hardships, but Bale is an unfortunate weak spot as he portrays Chris with a gruff monotone throughout and a surprising lack of emotional range.

Nonetheless, “The Promise” is a noble effort to ensure that this terrible episode in human history isn’t forgotten. Remarkably, its $90 million budget was financed entirely by the late Armenian billionaire Kirk Kerkorian as an homage to his people, and its entire box office gross has been promised to charities.

Those interested in an often-overlooked piece of history, and the resilience of the people who acted against it, will find “The Promise” to be engaging. While it may not be up to the classic standard set by “Schindler’s List,” its heart is in the right place and it serves as a stirring reminder of both the good and the evil of which humanity is capable.   Grade: B

Capsule Reviews

UNFORGETTABLE

Stars: Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl

Length: 100 minutes

Directed by: Denise DiNovi

Rating: R

This alleged thriller about an abused woman (Dawson) hiding her troubled past from her fiance when she changes towns to live with him and his daughter, and his too-perfect ex-wife (Heigl) out to ruin their relationship, is wall-to-wall ridiculous, with Dawson overwrought and Heigl a total cliche. It’s a Lifetime network movie with the audacity to charge for tickets and totally forgettable. Grade: F

THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS

Stars: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Kurt Russell

Length: 136 minutes

Directed by: F. Gary Gray

Rating: PG-13

The eighth film in the “Fast and Furious” franchise is also the first to arrive fully without original star Paul Walker as Brian, leaving a key level of humanity out and resulting in mostly mayhem throughout. Loud and frenetic as always, the wheels are starting to come off with  a near total lapse in logic and Charlize Theron is utterly wasted in her role as this edition’s villain, a super-hacker named Cipher. Grade: D

GOING IN STYLE

Stars: Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman

Length: 96 minutes

Directed by: Zach Braff

Rating: PG-13

This remake of the 1979 George Burns/Art Carney heist comedy follows three lifelong friends who suddenly learn that their former employer has ended their pension fund, leading to their robbing the bank that stores the millions. A fun caper with the three Oscar-winning veteran actors displaying sterling chemistry and an underlying reminder that society needs to treat its elderly with compassion.  Grade: B

T2: TRAINSPOTTING

Stars: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewan Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller

Length: 117 minutes

Directed by: Danny Boyle

Rating: R

Following the misadventures of the four young heroin addicts of the 1997 classic as they face middle age, with Renton returning home from Amsterdam and teaming up with Sick Boy in another attempt to start a brothel only to find Begbie wants violent revenge for his prior double-cross. This tries to recapture the original’s shocking flair but leaves one wishing the gang would grow up. Grade: C

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Stars: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline

Length: 129 minutes

Directed by: Bill Condon

Rating: PG

This spectacular live-action adaptation of the classic cartoon brings stunning musical numbers to life and adds depth and motivation to the characters, who are expertly cast in this enchanting addition to the Disney Princess canon.  Grade: A