D: Joseph Ruben / 110m
Cast: Michiel Huisman, Hera Hilmar, Josh Hartnett, Ben Kingsley, Haluk Bilginer, Affif Ben Badra, Paul Barrett, Jessica Turner
It’s 1914, and in Philadelphia, Lillie Rowe (Hilmar), the daughter of well-to-do society parents is trying to make her way in the world as a nurse. It’s not easy, what with class and racial prejudice making it more and more difficult to treat those needing treatment, so when she meets Dr Jude Gresham (Hartnett) at one of her parents’ soirées, and learns he works at a hospital in a remote part of Turkey that offers medical aid to anyone who needs it, Christian or Muslim, she decides to take a truck full of medical supplies there all by herself. Needing a military escort, Lillie is guided to the hospital by Lieutenant Ismail Veli (Huisman), who is stationed at a nearby garrison. They develop romantic feelings for each other, despite the difference in their faiths, and despite the objections of Gresham (who loves Lillie himself), and the advice of the hospital’s founder, Dr Garrett Woodruff (Kingsley). When World War I breaks out, their romance is put under further pressure thanks to the political upheavals the war brings, and the difficulty in keeping the hospital a neutral place for all…
Despite the tumultuous events that occurred during the period it covers, The Ottoman Lieutenant is largely unconcerned with such minor details as the Armenian genocide that began in 1915, or in exploring too closely the religious, political, ethnic and historical realities of the time. Instead, it sidesteps these issues (for the most part) in order to focus on one of the most excruciatingly bland three-way romances seen in quite some time. If you’re expecting the movie to be a grand, sweeping romantic drama set against a turbulent backdrop, and full of passion and fire, then be prepared: it’s not that kind of movie, and the combination of Jeff Stockwell’s anodyne screenplay, Joseph Ruben’s pedestrian direction, and three tired-from-the-word-go performances by Huisman, Hilmar and Hartnett, ensure that the movie never gets out of the starting gate. And that’s without Geoff Zanelli’s by-the-numbers score, and cinematography by Daniel Aranyó that only seems to fizz when depicting the beautiful Turkish countryside; any interiors appear drab and unappealingly flat in their presentation. Apparently, the movie was given a limited release in December 2016 to allow it to qualify for Oscar consideration. If so, the obvious question is: why?
All round, it’s a woeful lump of a movie, uninspired, straining for momentum and merit, and unable to raise any interest especially when its lacklustre love story is pushed to the forefront. It’s hard to care about Veli and Lillie when their love affair is played out with all the perfunctory flair of a dismal soap opera, and it’s worse that neither Huisman or Hilmar seem interested in doing anything more than going through the (e)motions (there’s certainly no chemistry between them). Hartnett is no better, which means that, performance-wise, it’s only Kingsley who appears to be putting any effort in. Making more out of his character, and some truly awful dialogue, than his three co-stars put together, Kingsley is the movie’s sole saving grace; without him it would be even more tortuous. Even when the movie throws in a couple of action sequences, the viewer’s pulse is unlikely to quicken, and any tension is dismissed early on when it becomes obvious that, one character aside, no one is in any real danger from the Turks, the Russians, or anyone else – though the viewer is at risk of succumbing to terminal lethargy. Best advice: if you have to make one trip to Turkey this year, make sure it isn’t this one.
Rating: 3/10 – what was probably intended to be a good old-fashioned romantic adventure yarn with a plucky heroine and a dashing suitor, is instead the opposite: trite, run-of-the-mill, and poorly executed; when it’s not addressing the issues of the period (which is most of its running time), The Ottoman Lieutenant remains firmly in dramatic limbo, unable to rouse itself beyond the mundane and the banal.