Saturday 10 April 2021

Movie Review: The Ottoman Lieutenant (2017)

A romantic drama set on the eastern front of World War One, The Ottoman Lieutenant is a clunky and stale story assembled from expired components.

It's 1914. In Philadelphia, 23 year old idealistic nurse Lillie Rowe (Hera Hilmar) meets Doctor Jude Gresham (Josh Hartnett), who is fund raising for his hospital mission in the village of Van near the east border of the Ottoman Empire. Lillie decides to donate a truck loaded with medical supplies and travels to Istanbul, where dashing Lieutenant Ismail Veli (Michiel Huisman) of the Ottoman Army is assigned to accompany her to Von. With war approaching, Ismail is also tasked with keeping tabs on local rebel activities.

Lillie and Ismail bond during the journey, and upon arrival at Jude's hospital she volunteers as a nurse and meets the mission's founder Doctor Garrett Woodruff (Ben Kingsley). Ismail and Jude both pursue Lillie's heart, but romance becomes more complicated when war erupts and tensions rise between the army and the Christian Armenian population.

A Turkish funded retort to 2016's The Promise, The Ottoman Lieutenant aims for epic overtones in presenting a more sympathetic view of Ottoman actions during the Great War. Here Armenian rebels side with invading Russian forces, and although atrocities against the Armenian population are on display, they are presented within a context of an army stamping out a wartime threat. And of course, Ismail as the heroic Ottoman lieutenant abhors unnecessary bloodshed and risks everything to prevent violence against civilians.

Politics aside, The Ottoman Lieutenant is a bore and would have been considered uninspired back in the 1960s. When it's not plain silly, Jeff Stockwell's script is full of predictable and bland dialogue spouted by dull characters and devoid of any originality or bright sparks. The cast members are in over their heads, none more so than unfortunate Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar, who never convinces as a spirited American woman, her line delivery and narration inflicting physical pain. Reduced to caricature representations of the elegant soldier and utopian doctor respectively, Michiel Huisman and Josh Hartnett are far from the required level to create a compelling romantic triangle. Ben Kingsley appears to wander in from another, darker movie.

Director Joseph Ruben does capture some excellent vistas in the rugged terrain, almost compensating for a stupefyingly antiquated and repetitive Geoff Zanelli music score. Abandoned and incomplete subplots, including guns hidden at the hospital mission and Dr. Woodruff's background and physical ailments, litter the pretty scenery.

The Ottoman Lieutenant attempts to improve the image of a defunct empire, but is defeated by cinematic ineptitude on all sides of the camera.

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