Turkish B-movie “The Ottoman Lieutenant,” veteran director Joseph Ruben’s third directorial credit this century, is impure bunkum, a jumbled gloss of romance-novel grade set at the onset of the Turkish Armenian genocide. Josh Hartnett plays Jude, an American doctor dispatched to the Ottoman Empire right before World War I. Lillie (Hera Hilmar, “Da Vinci’s Demons”) is the Philadelphia nurse and archetypal historical romance-headstrong young woman who loves him So Very Much. But maybe not that much: Lillie also falls for Ismail, a lieutenant in the Ottoman Imperial Army (Michiel Huisman, “Game of Thrones”) which allows the element of a Christian in love with a Muslim to be introduced with little conflict. (“Were Adam and Eve Muslim? Were they Christian? They shared the same God!” is as deep as it gets.)
Can the motions of Lillie’s love stand the Turkish point-of-view on the deaths of thousands and thousands? Can her love stand the two-hour feature treatment? Why doesn’t the story go where the drama is, along the escape routes of Armenians fleeing imminent death? That great drama, that great tragedy, is elided. As directed by veteran Ruben (“Sleeping With the Enemy,” 1991; “The Stepfather,” 1987), vistas, mounts and sunsets are displayed with fluency and standard beauty, and the battle scenes are proficiently edited. Hats and horses abound. An unlikely quote credited to Ruben in the press kit: ““It’s the kind of movie that people don’t make anymore. It’s a love story, or more precisely, a love triangle, told against the backdrop of a major cataclysmic world event in Turkey at the onset of World War I. I knew that putting those big images on the screen would be really exciting.” Sir Ben Kingsley, also a warning sign these recent years, runs Jude’s Anatolian medical mission. With Haluk Bilginer, Selçuk Yöntem. 110m. Widescreen. (Ray Pride)
“The Ottoman Lieutenant” opens Friday, March 10 at Landmark Century and other theaters.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.