Joseph Ruben’s “The Ottoman Lieutenant” is a lot like those cheap romance novels with the beautiful couple locked in a passionate embrace on the cover. If only the story inside were as interesting as those two then the book would be more than a B-grade tale.
Here, the beautiful couple is played by the dashing Michiel Huisman and the timeless beauty Hera Hilmar.
Where the movie manages to pull itself out of the B-grade story is through the solid performances by the two leads plus great supporting work from Josh Hartnett and Sir Ben Kingsley. The film gets an added boost from the beautiful backdrop Ruben found in the Czech Republic and Turkey.
Hilmar plays Lillie Rowe, a spunky young woman who wants to deliver a truck and medical supplies to a remote part of Eastern Anatolia. Not only does this seem like an ill-fated plan because of the ruggedness of the journey, but she wants to make the trek in 1914, just a year before the Armenian Genocide will start.
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The only way she’s allowed to make the trip is with a military escort. That’s provided by Ismail Veli (Huisman), a dashing officer with the Ottoman Imperial Empire Army.
There’s no question these two will fall in love and that the young doctor working at the remote hospital, played by Hartnett, will be part of the romantic equation. But Hilmar and Huisman make such a beautiful couple that it is not unpleasant to go on the predictable journey with them.
Mostly it’s Hilmar who makes the movie work. She can be determined and feisty when standing up for her beliefs but can also be vulnerable when events take her to an emotional abyss. It’s as if her character is a personification of what is going on around her as the proud and determined people of the country must face pain and suffering in the time of war.
Huisman, best known for his work in “Game of Thrones,” handles both the touching love story and the battle scenes with great ease. His acting’s strong enough to keep pace with Hilmar. That’s very important in this kind of love story.
Toss in solid work by Hartnett and Kingsley and the movie has enough romance, drama and action to eclipse any lapses of melodrama. Most of the misses have to do with the war backdrop where world-changing events are reduced to an elementary sentiment in Jeff Stockwell’s script.
The movie also shies away from the big issue of a taboo Muslim-Christian romance. This would have added a sharp political and social edge to the movie. A movie like “A United Kingdom,” that has a similar structure, shows how much that edge can add to a production.
Just like a cheap romance novel, it’s easy to guess where the storyline of “The Ottoman Lieutenant” is going. But the trip through the predictable is made far more palatable because of the film’s stars and beautiful cinematography by Daniel Aranyo.