Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Pretty, youthful and social-minded, a young girl ignores the pleas of her wealthy East Coast family and travels around the globe to a war-torn country where she becomes embroiled in a love triangle with two suitors. That’s the main idea in Joseph Rubin’s reductive The Ottoman Lieutenant, a film that’s handsomely mounted but ultimately never stirs the senses or rises above its mediocre narrative.
The youthful and socially minded girl is Lillie (Hera Hilmer), whose passions for helping others becomes strengthened when young doctor Jude (Josh Hartnett) hosts a fundraising speech at her family’s lavish home. Struggling to make ends meet at his remote hospital in Turkey, Lillie volunteers her dead brother’s car and even agrees to hand deliver it in the hopes of putting her own marginal nursing skills to the test.
Upon arrival in Turkey and bowing to the customs of the country, Lillie is forced to take on a military escort, which comes in the form of another handsome young man named Ismail (Michiel Huisman of Game of Thrones fame).
Naturally, Lillie’s arrival in Turkey coincides with the onslaught of World War I. Warring tribes of Arabs, Armenians and Turks have created a violent and turbulent countryside which would eventually spell the end of the Ottoman Empire and cast a taboo light on the relationship that develops between Ishmail and Lillie.
Also drawn to Lillie is Doctor Jude, who does a poor job of trying to hide his feelings of jealousy while maintaining some type of order over the hospital. His fellow doctor Woodruff, played by veteran Ben Kingsley, is no help as he continually loses hope in their mission and succumbs to his drug addiction as the war wages closer and closer to their doorstep.
Written by Jeff Stockwell and helmed by director Ruben (Sleeping With the Enemy and The Good Son), The Ottoman Lieutenant features undeniable talent from all involved but rambles in tracks of familiarity. The only real zing it provides is in the always electric performance of Kingsley as the fried and despondent Dr. Woodruff. Saddled with a heavy backstory and general contempt for Lillie from the beginning, their relationship and interactions grow in tender ways. It almost feels like a subplot from another film. Whenever these two were on-screen together, the film had some weight.
Outside of those few and far between moments, at best The Ottoman Lieutenant is a wanna-be tear jerker and at worst, it wears its vulgar colonialism on its sleeve. Several times during the film, someone will be hurt and the villagers have carried this person to the hospital. While everyone else in the scene (nurses and other doctors known as nameless extras) are milling around and watching, young Lillie is the first to rush out and help…. savior pose and all. By distilling a much greater story of upheaval around an East Coast runaway, a baby-faced doctor and a non-Arab-looking soldier, this pretty much tells the safe manner in which The Ottoman Lieutenant treads. Mediocre, indeed.
The Ottoman Lieutenant opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, March 10 at the AMC Stonebriar, AMC Mesquite 30, AMC The Parks At Arlington 18 and AMC Grapevine.