More than 100 years may have passed since the outbreak of the First World War, but The Promise offers worrying parallels with today’s political landscape, highlighting the damage caused when intolerance rises un-checked. The film admirably tries to balance the plot demands of a love triangle with the weighty drama and real-life horror of a dark chapter in history: the Armenian genocide.

We follow apothecary Mikael (Oscar Isaac) when he leaves his hometown in Armenia, and his betrothed, behind to train as a doctor in Constantinople. But with Europe on the brink of meltdown, his hopes for his career, and a budding romance with French governess Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), are cut off before they can bloom when war breaks out. While vying for Ana’s affections Mikael meets American journalist Chris (a gruff and grandstanding Christian Bale) soon risking his life to bear witness to the atrocities perpetrated during the last days of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey still has yet to recognise the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide).

the-promiseSoon, with this terrifying backdrop, the film’s fight and flight dynamics take over and Terry George mostly handles difficult material with sensitivity. A lavish budget has given the director of Hotel Rwanda time to craft a visually compelling but narratively unbalanced film. As we watch seismic military events unfold and follow the plight of Armenian refugees it’s hard not to feel that the love story, and its lack of chemistry, is a distraction. This sub-plot struggles to humanise events and interferes with the film’s attempts at an epic sweep – which reaches a high point with a mountain top battle. Griping aside, The Promise feels worryingly prescient. Amidst today’s global chaos and the Syrian refugee crisis it’s a grave reminder we should do more to heed warnings from history.

Ultimately Oscar Isaac’s performance is a masterclass and carries the film through its soapier moments. Mikael bears witness to the terror of the Armenian genocide through a story that emphasises the indomitable strength of the human spirit. A world away from the X-Men franchise, Isaac’s emotional control and ability to convey a lifetime’s yearning with just one look, mark him out among the best actors of his generation and make any film he stars in worth a watch – including this one.

The Promise is released on April 28th.