This World War I-era love-triangle tale is pretty to look at but quickly runs out of gas. 2 stars out of 4.
“The Ottoman Lieutenant” belongs to a very specific movie genre: It’s a period romance set in a country torn by war, in which attractive people struggle with their emotions while tossing their subtly excellent hair. I’ll admit to a weakness for this sort of thing (which Merchant-Ivory, a couple of decades back, made into elegant art), but even I couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm for this one, a tepid love triangle set in the Ottoman Empire in the early days of World War I.
Lillie (the curiously flat-voiced Hera Hilmar) is an idealistic young nurse living with her wealthy parents in 1914 Philadelphia — until, just like that, she’s fascinated by an earnest young doctor named Jude (Josh Hartnett, showing a flair for dramatic glasses-wrangling) and heads off to remote Anatolia to meet him at his medical mission, with medical supplies and a truck (!) in tow. Enter Ismail (Michiel Huisman), the handsome Ottoman lieutenant of the title (this film is nothing if not literal), who’s appointed to escort her to the remote clinic — and, instantly, the love/hate sparks fly. An older American doctor, played by Ben Kingsley, seems to exist so that the movie can have a character who isn’t in love with Lillie — and to remind us that Kingsley, with one long, enigmatic look late in the film, doesn’t need a script to tell a story.
Good thing, because there isn’t much of a script here. Directed by Hollywood veteran Joseph Ruben (“Dreamscape,” “Sleeping with the Enemy,” “The Stepfather”), “The Ottoman Lieutenant” looks beautiful, full of sweeping landscapes (it’s filmed in Turkey and the Czech Republic) and moodily pretty light. But its take on war and religion can kindly be described as simplistic, and its romance wears thin long before the movie’s over. When I found myself thinking more about that truck than about the fate of Lillie/Ismail/Jude — how did they get gas for it? Why is it still running after Lillie drove it over a cliff in an early scene? — it’s a good indication that “The Ottoman Lieutenant” missed the mark.
Movie Review ★★
‘The Ottoman Lieutenant,’ with Michiel Huisman, Hera Hilmar, Josh Hartnett, Ben Kingsley. Directed by Joseph Ruben, from a screenplay by Jeff Stockwell. 109 minutes. Rated R for some war violence. Several theaters.