“The Ottoman Lieutenant” is an uninspired romantic drama period-piece that is as banal as it is boring.
There’s something telling when a dramatic picture is released several weeks after the award circuit has wrapped up. Many cinephiles recognize this period as being peppered with films that know they could not break into the Oscars, Golden Globes, Spirit Awards and others. These are the horror films, the action movies, the comedies, the rudimentary sci-fi flicks. These are the films that satisfy our basic filmic pleasure nodes. They entertain, cajole, arouse, and keep us on the edge of our seats.
These genres know they are going to have a hard time pushing for award recognition. And most of the time, they never try to push for it. But when a romantic drama that seems to take itself very seriously is released in this period–well, that doesn’t bode well for how it’ll turn out. Quite simply, everyone knows it isn’t going to be a great film. And “The Ottoman Lieutenant” certainly fits this canon.
“The Ottoman Lieutenant” tells the story of Lillie Rowe (Hera Hilmar), an idealistic, beautiful and bohemian woman who has grown disheartened by the ongoing injustice in her life and in the United States. She decides to leave her idyllic, rich and privileged life behind for a chance to truly help people in need.
After meeting Jude Gresham (Josh Hartnett), an American doctor who runs a small charity clinic in the Ottoman Empire, Lillie decides to run off to the remote Eastern empire that is slowly stepping closer and closer to entrenching itself in World War I. While growing more attached to Jude and the clinic’s founder, Dr. Garrett Woodruff (Ben Kinsley), Ms. Rowe slowly begins falling for Ismail Veli (Michiel Huisman), a lieutenant in the Ottoman Imperial Army. With the world on the brink of total war, Lillie must decide who she really is and what she really wants.
Director Joseph Ruben seems to have returned to his act of mediocrity with his newest feature, “The Ottoman Lieutenant.” Having previously directed films such as “The Good Son” and more recently “Sleeping with the Enemy,” Ruben is predominantly known for his psychological thrillers and horrors. Now taking a stab at the romantic drama period piece, it seems that Ruben is in over his head trying to attach depth to his characters and richness to his narrative.
With a tired screenplay from Jeff Stockwell, “The Ottoman Lieutenant” seldom tries to differentiate itself from even the more derivative works within the same filmic field. From the hackneyed plot to the drabby characterizations of our love triangle participants, this conventionally uninspired period-piece drama is as interesting as it would sound to a 10 year-old walking by the multiplex.
While the film attempts to show invigorating characters that are more than clichéd renditions of stereotypical melodrama roles, it seldom does so. Instead, the film relies on the exoticism of Anatolia (thanks to the cinematography of Gaudí-nominated Daniel Aranyó) and the capable work of thespian Ben Kingsley to add spice to this unoriginal work. But perhaps what is most unforgiving in this work is the film’s absolute lack of emotionality–and in the face of World War I–danger.
There was rarely a moment in the film when more action-oriented or dramatic sequences give way to a more intimate connection between audience and film. It is moments like these that make filmgoers fall for a picture, attaching breadth and value to the story they are seeing unfold. But sadly, Ruben’s mediocre direction and Stockwell’s rather uninventive screenplay hold back this romantic period-piece drama from becoming even a decent melodrama that audiences could walk away from feeling satisfied.
“The Ottoman Lieutenant” opens in theaters March 10.