Friday, March 10, 2017

History, romance, genocide: Joseph Ruben & John Stockwell's THE OTTOMAN LIEUTENANT


Both old-fashioned and up-to-the-minute, THE OTTOMAN LIEUTENANT is a historical romance that manages to be relatively compelling, despite -- even perhaps because of -- its rather standard-issue filmmaking, including adequate direction (by Joseph Ruben) and by-the-numbers scripting (from Jeff Stockwell). And yet, because the locale is so sumptuous -- the movie was filmed in both Turkey and the Czech Republic -- and the tale told here one of love and sacrifice in wartime, the movie is difficult not to enjoy for its visuals & story.

Mr. Ruben has proven himself a journeyman filmmaker over the past forty-odd years (his biggest critical hit was probably The Stepfather; his box-office hit, Sleeping With the Enemy), and he does a creditable job here, as well. His international cast is well-chosen, with romantic leads played by actors relatively new to me (since I don't watch that much television): Michiel Huisman (below, left) in the title role, and Hera Hilmar (below, right) as the young Philadelphia woman who forsakes America and its racist institutions (she works in a hospital where a black man dies because the administration refuses to let him be cared for) to light out for Turkey and a hospital in the hinterlands run by Josh Hartnett.

What makes the movie seem ever relevant and current -- even though it takes place just prior to and during World War I -- is the fact that it puts us in the center of what will soon become in horrific Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Turks, for which, even now, the country refuses to take responsibility. We are spared the kind of mass killing and horror we've seen in other films (Ararat, for one), but we cannot escape the fact that this is happening. (The Muslim Ottoman Empire aligned with Germany in World War I, while the Armenian Christians sided with the Allies -- including England, France and Russia -- adding to the build-up of hatred that would encourage more of the ongoing genocide.)

Huisman's lieutenant turns out to be a "good Turk" who protects the Armenians, while the hospital in which Hilmar, Hartnett (above) and Ben Kingsley (below, center, playing another drug-addicted doctor with a sad backstory of his own) all labor, refuses to take sides, treating and caring for the wounded, whatever their uniform. Romantic conflict ensues when both the young men's desire for Hilmar's character comes to the fore, and a rather good fight between the two men takes place.

Love, sex, and a suicide mission involving detonating a fortress full of ammunition all occur, along with death, destruction, and a loss of friends, lovers and entire families. A horseback ride lets loose some freedom and passion, and in one of the movie's best moments, a combination of sexual attraction and mutual respect leads to a very nice and unusual near-love scene that's unusual in the annals of cinema.

All in all, The Ottoman Lieutenant proves quite watchable, even if it never loses its been-there/seen-that sheen. From Paladin and running a just-about-right 110 minutes, the movie opens today all around the country. Here in South Florida you can catch it in Miami at the AMC Sunset Place 24 and the Regal South Beach Stadium 18; in Fort Lauderdale at the AMC Pompano 18 (formerly Broward 18), the Regal Oakwood 18, the Regal Sawgrass Stadium 23, and the Regal Cypress Creek Stadium 16; in Palm Beach at the AMC Parisian 20; at the Regal Shadowood 16, in Boca Raton; at the Regal Royal Palm Beach Stadium 18, and the Indian River 24 in Vero Beach. 

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is one of the more sane reviews I have read. I didn't know much about WWI or the Turks and Armenians - and this movie didn't really offer anything truly historical. I don't think anyone would walk away from this movie with any knowledge of whether the Armenian genicide happened or not. That wasn't its focus. So it's very hard to call it propaganda. Seemed rather neutral to me.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for posting, Anonymous. I agree with you that the genocide was not this movie's focus, but for anyone who knows history, it is certainly there. Since the movie was made in Turkey, I would suspect that the moviemakers could not concentrate so much on the genocide portion.