Icelandic actress Helma Hilmar plays Lillie Rowe, an idealistic American nurse. Hilmar brings fresh-faced beauty and composure to the role.She is the American audience’s vicarious lens: the fearlessly plucky protagonist whose idealism compels her from her life of luxury to a brutal country where women are poorly regarded and treated even worse. She’s intent on delivering supplies to a hospital in the caucuses. Who are these suicidal people? I’m over characters who hear warnings like “high likelihood of war, rape, and murder, still want to go?” and undeterred they set their jaw and sally forth. A sane person would be deterred. The most troubling issue is this overwrought breathless framework of a classic movie romance. It’s disrespectful to the victims of the real events.
The eponymous Ottoman officer Ismael (Huisman) is a romantic wet dream. He’s kind and funny and handsome and wears his uniform smartly. When it comes time for the sex he carefully asks Lillie if she’s sure. She’s the one who initiates sex, in fact, asking him to tell her the Turkish word for “kiss.” Oh my. He’s far too perfect. Later in the film he’s even more perfect. I am skeptical of the notion that a man in that culture at that time could be so deferential to a young American woman. Possible. Unlikely.
The budget is splashed all over the place; the production is lush and epic. Sweeping landscapes flow by in saturated hyperreal color as Lillie travels across the desert and mountains. It’s a pretty film. I’m sympathetic to the filmmakers whose craftsmanship went into the movie. Absent historical context this would be adequate light fare presented as easily digested boilerplate archetypes and tropes but the weak script/dialog and narrative retcon can’t be ignored and spoils their efforts.
Effective propaganda shouldn’t make one think too deeply. Riefenstahl would approve.
The Ottoman Lieutenant (2016) Directed by Joseph Ruben. Written by Jeff Stockwell. Starring Michiel Huisman, Hera Hilmar, Josh Hartnett, Ben Kingsley.
5 out of 10