The Ottoman Lieutenant (2016)

  • Time: 106 min
  • Genre: Drama | War
  • Director: Joseph Ruben
  • Cast: Michiel Huisman, Hera Hilmar, Josh Hartnett, Ben Kingsley


A beautiful, strong-willed woman, who, frustrated by ongoing injustice at home, leaves the United States after meeting Jude, an American doctor who runs a remote medical mission within the Ottoman Empire – a world both exotic and dangerous, and on the brink of what is about to become the first World War. There, she finds her loyalty to Jude and the mission’s founder tested when she falls in love with their perceived enemy, a lieutenant in the Ottoman Imperial Army. Now, with invading army forces at their doorstep, and the world about to plunge into all-out war, she must make a decision if she wants to be what other people want her to be, or to be herself.

One comment

  • “I’ll tell you the story of my journey. I thought I was going to change the world but, of course, it was the world that changed me.” Welcome to The Ottoman Lieutenant, in which a young and privileged white woman learns to live from the pain and suffering of a war-torn nation.

    It’s difficult not to be snarky about the film, the second this year to use the Armenian Genocide during and after World War I as a backdrop for an anaemic love triangle. The first was The Promise, directed by Hotel Rwanda’s Terry George and starring Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon and Christian Bale, and that at least had the good sense to have two-thirds of its main trio portray Armenian characters and to place the blame of the extermination of some 1.5 million Armenians on the Ottoman government. The Ottoman Lieutenant, on the other hand, has a decided to be a bit more revisionist about the genocide, offering that the killings were more the actions of rogue groups of soldiers rather than orders from the Turkish government. As disingenuous as that tactic is, equally so is the foregrounding of Lillie (Hera Hilmar) whose personal journey, as that opening quote makes quite clear, is the real focus of this film.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with this – after all, Hollywood has been doing this since the dawn of cinema – but where previous films boasted solid dialogue and actresses like Vivien Leigh and Julie Christie to incarnate multi-dimensional heroines, The Ottoman Lieutenant has the Icelandic Hilmar, who is a lovely enough presence but too 21st century in her manner and simply not skilled enough to create any depth to Lillie, an American nurse who wants to serve a purpose and yet whose actions seem more motivated by the men she encounters and with whom she falls in love than any quest for independence. Her journey to the Anatolian village of Van, for example, is ostensibly to donate medical supplies but not only does she have dedicated mission doctor Jude Gresham (Josh Hartnett) awaiting her there, she also has Ismail Veli (Michiel Huisman), the titular character assigned to be her military escort.

    There’s some palaver about Ismail being reluctant at having to discern the Christian allegiances of the Anatolians in the region as well as being bemused over Lillie’s boldness (when he makes a remark about having to play tour guide to her, she apologises that the trip is interfering with his career, but surely he can put his countrymen’s needs above his own), but soon enough he’s parroting her words about how the mosque, the mountains, the sea are like “living inside God’s thoughts” and squaring off with Jude over Lillie. It’s just all so ponderous and woefully predictable.

    The Ottoman Lieutenant is a competently put together film with locations such as Prague, Cappadocia and Istanbul well-lensed by Daniel AranyĆ³, but it is a thoroughly unremarkable affair, completely leeched of any intrigue and emotion. It must be said that Huisman does cut a tremendously dashing figure.

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