Like many directors who learned their craft in the exploitation racket during the 1970s, Joseph Ruben has had one of those careers with an output that is sporadic but never boring, and he has at least one stone-cold classic under his belt with 1987’s The Stepfather. Thirty years later, his new movie The Ottoman Lieutenant looks on the surface like a prestige period piece, down to a name that evokes The English Patient.
Lillie (Hera Hilmar) is a Christian nurse from a wealthy Philadelphia family who goes against her stuffy parents’ wishes and travels to the Ottoman Empire on the eve of the first World War to work in a medical mission alongside fellow expatriate doctor Jude (Josh Hartnett). Once there, she falls in love with Ismail (Michael Huisman), a Muslim lieutenant in the Ottoman army. That the title is The Ottoman Lieutenant and not The American Doctor hints at the film’s sympathies in the love triangle — and indeed, everything about the film is very much on the surface.
No subtext is left unspoken as text, and the picture makes no attempt to avoid clichés, nor does it skimp on the action. In spite of its stuffy outward appearance, The Ottoman Lieutenant retains its director’s B-movie sensibilities, and is all the better for it.
The Ottoman Lieutenant
Opens Friday at the Opera Plaza Cinema.