Review: Historical epic ‘The Ottoman Lieutenant’ lacks depth and heat

Michiel Huisman and Hera Hilmar in the film "The Ottoman Lieutenant."
(Anne Marie Fox / Y-Stone Production)

There’s sweep and gloss to “The Ottoman Lieutenant,” but this well-intentioned, sumptuously shot tale of love and war, directed by Joseph Ruben, lacks the emotional depth and romantic grandeur to fulfill its epic ambitions.

Just before the start of World War I, 23-year-old Lillie (Hera Hilmar), an independent, idealistic Philadelphia nurse, travels to a hamlet in then-Ottoman Turkey to assist at a needy medical facility. But upon arriving first in Istanbul, Lillie winds up with a military escort, the dashing Ottoman army lieutenant Ismail (Michiel Huisman). It’s not if these two will lock lips — but when.

War breaks out and Lillie digs in at the busy medical mission run by its troubled founder (Ben Kingsley) and an earnest, younger physician, Jude (Josh Hartnett), who also falls for Lillie. Can the bespectacled doc compete with the swashbuckling soldier? Two guesses.

In the war, the Turks are fighting the Russians, Christians and Muslims are at odds and the Armenian genocide seems to be occurring largely off-screen. If all we had was Jeff Stockwell’s simplistic script to go by, it’d be hard to know quite whom to root for. Fortunately, there’s actual history.


The Icelandic Hilmar is the weakest link here, low on the kind of vibrant beauty and passionate presence her iconic-type part demands. Hilmar’s indefinite American accent, even more evident in her wan voice-overs, doesn’t help.


‘The Ottoman Lieutenant’

Rating: R, for some war violence

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Playing: In general release

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