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‘The Ottoman Lieutenant’ review: Aims high, but falls short

Josh Hartnett and Hera Hilmar practice medicine in

Josh Hartnett and Hera Hilmar practice medicine in World War I Turkey in "The Ottoman Lieutenant." Photo Credit: Paladin / Anne Marie Fox

PLOT During World War I, a young American nurse finds love and adventure in Turkey.

CAST Hera Hilmar, Josh Hartnett, Michiel Huisman

RATED R (some strong violence)

LENGTH 1:49

PLAYING AT Roslyn Cinemas and Malverne Cinema 4.

BOTTOM LINE Aims for the grandeur of “Lawrence of Arabia” but falls just shy of made-for-television special.

A young American nurse ventures to far-off Turkey during World War I and finds herself torn between a dashing soldier and a noble doctor in “The Ottoman Lieutenant,” which was filmed on location in Cappadocia. If only the acting, directing or writing were more interesting than the landscape, “The Ottoman Lieutenant” might have something to recommend it.

Instead, this attempt at a sweeping wartime romance seems to have been created backward, beginning with the grand backdrop and ending with some kind of story to justify the expense. The film’s heroine is Lillie Rowe (Hera Hilmar), a young American nurse working at a Philadelphia hospital whose segregationist policies disgust her. A chance meeting with the idealistic and rather handsome Dr. Jude Gresham (Josh Hartnett) convinces Lillie to work for his clinic in Turkey. There, he assures her, no one is turned away. Upon her arrival in Istanbul, though, another fellow catches her eye — Lt. Ismail Veli (Michiel Huisman) of the Ottoman Army.

At this point there’s little to distinguish Lillie from a backpacker on her post-college year abroad — she is single and has made no promises, so where’s the big love triangle? — but we’re hoping the film will raise the stakes. It does, sort of. There’s talk of forbidden contact between Muslims and Christians, a subplot about Veli’s spy mission and some serious pouting from Gresham.

Director Joseph Ruben has done better (“Sleeping with the Enemy”), but here he’s stuck with a barely there script by Jeff Stockwell. It feels like a grid with some squares filled in — the lakeside lovemaking, the heroic war wound, the emotional farewell — while the rest remain blank. Meanwhile, nearly every actor seems terribly miscast, particularly Hilmar, who plays Lillie as a shrugging mumbler rather than a woman of substance. Ben Kingsley does a yeoman’s job as the surly Dr. Woodruff, but he might as well be acting in a vacuum.

In the end, “The Ottoman Lieutenant” comes off as an ersatz “The English Patient.” The country of Turkey deserves better than to star in one.

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