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With: Michiel Huisman, Hera Hilmar, Josh Hartnett, Ben Kingsley, Haluk Bilginer, Afif Ben Badra, Paul Barrett, Jessica Turner, Peter Hosking, Selcuk Yontem, Eliska Slansky, Hasan Say, Deniz Kilic Flak
Written by: Jeff Stockwell
Directed by: Joseph Ruben
MPAA Rating: R for some war violence
Running Time: 106
Date: 03/10/2017

The Ottoman Lieutenant (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Turk Works

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Unabashedly classical and romantic, this World War I-era movie fearlessly plucks at the heartstrings while offering glorious, old-fashioned, big-screen cinematography and a bit of revisionist history.

In The Ottoman Lieutenant, nurse Lillie Rowe (Hera Hilmar) finds that Philadelphia of 1914 tends to frown upon headstrong women who would rather work than be married. She also hates the fact that her hospital turns away non-white patients. Everything changes when she meets doctor Jude Gresham (Josh Hartnett), who works at a hospital in Turkey.

Lillie decides to donate supplies to the hospital and travels there to see to their delivery. She finds a guide in Ismail Veli (Michiel Huisman), a lieutenant in the Ottoman Imperial Army. Before long, Lillie finds herself in a love triangle between the good, kind doctor, and the raffish lieutenant; worse, a relationship between a white Christian woman and a Turkish lieutenant would be forbidden. But soon, war begins, and the danger grows ever more intense around them.

The Ottoman Lieutenant may seem like a "B"-grade movie with its lack of matinee idol stars. Not to mention that, as funded largely by Turkish financiers, the movie wishes to shine a positive light on the country, which means glossing over the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Yet if the movie's main goal is to tell a romantic story against an intense wartime backdrop, like a mini-Dr. Zhivago or English Patient, it succeeds handsomely.

The three members of the romantic triangle are very appealing, and their three-dimensional, human qualities makes their relationship more complex. Additionally, Ben Kingsley is wonderfully hammy as the founder of the Turkish hospital. Veteran director Joseph Ruben, who usually makes low-level thrillers (like the excellent The Stepfather) forgoes any tricks and simply uses a gorgeous widescreen backdrop with spectacular landscapes and plays of light to underline the story. The telling of it is smart but not confusing, tragic but not weepy, and swoon-inducing without being dopey.

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