The Ottoman Lieutenant

This film challenges anyone who believes in a loving God. If he or she does exist, why was World War I allowed to take place?

The Ottoman LieutenantWho would have thought that any film centering on World War I would have been filled with death, destruction and heartbreak? Add some powerful romance and you will know what awaits you with Director Joseph Ruben’s The Ottoman Lieutenant.

In this film, Hera Hilmar plays Lillie, an American nurse in Philadelphia who has become offended by racial policies in our country. Attending a fund raiser, she meets Jude (Josh Hartnett), a handsome American doctor who manages a medical mission deep within the Ottoman Empire. She suddenly finds her purpose in life, and sets out to find personal fulfillment while clearly putting her life in danger.

Arriving in Istanbul on the verge of World War I, she is introduced to Ismail (played by Michiel Huisman), a lieutenant in the Ottoman army who will attempt to guide her to the medical mission. In the process, he escorts her to visit the overpoweringly beautiful Blue Mosque in Istanbul, a place where Monica and I had the pleasure of visiting years ago.

The film centers on the climactic internal struggle suffered in Turkey after they joined Germany in the war. As the Russians invaded from the East, Christian Armenians rallied to their side to battle the Muslim Ottoman nation. There were no winners in this fight, and civilians were routinely executed on both sides.

Yet it was the romance between Ms. Hilmar’s Lillie, Hartnet’s Dr. Jude and Huisman’s Ismail that provides the strength and weakness of the film. The growing romance between the American Hilmar and the Muslim Huisman is at times both funny and romantically powerful, yet the battle between our two male leads challenging for Lillie’s affection resembled an amateur collision you might see between high school kids in a school yard.

However, saving everything was the expected wonderful performance from Ben Kingsley, here playing a doctor named Woodruff who is reeling from the loss of his wife that occurred before the film began. He hates and resents nearly everyone, which initially included Lillie. Yet her devotion to him helped him regain the meaning of his attempts to save the sick and injured who came to their facility, and the film rallied from its low points at that moment.

While I must admit that I did like this film, go see Alicia Vikander in Testament of Youth (2014) if you want to see a powerful movie about the destruction of World War I and lost love. Though it is a more meaningful cinematic experience than The Ottoman Lieutenant, both films serve to remind us all that the destruction taking place in the Middle East in 1914 is still going on to this very day.