Genghis Khan can’t be all bad. The Oscar-nominated foreign film Mongol dares to show the little known softer side to the man that conquered most of the known world in the early 13th century. The film follows the rise of Temudjin (Tadanobu Asano). Mongol has the look and feel of epic adventures of old, the type of stuff Hollywood was churning out at four-hour lengths in the 1960s. The cinematography is excellent and sweeping, the real-life filming locations add great authenticity to the tale, and the acting is universally strong, especially Asano and his stalwart and attractive wife, Börte (Khulan Chuluun). Even though Asano is Japanese he makes a much more convincing Genghis Khan than John Wayne (I advise everyone to skip 1956’s The Conqueror). Most of the film concerns Temudjin’s relationship with his wife and his blood brother, Jamukha (Honglei Sun). Eventually he must defeat his powerful blood brother and consolidate the Mongolian people. The interpersonal relationships between the three principles are surprisingly deft and full of insight. For a two-hour film detailing the life of Genghis Khan, the movie doesn’t resort to many battle sequences. The combat is exhilarating and stylish without ever becoming self-conscious. I read that Mongol is intended to be part one of a trilogy following Genghis Khan, so perhaps there will be more military strategy and battles once he steps off his home turf.
The movie lost me somewhere in its languid middle and never fully regained my attention. The movie starts off well, ends decently enough, but man the time in between gets terribly repetitious. Temudjin is captured. He escapes. He’s captured. He escapes. His wife is captured. He rescues her. I have no idea if all the events the film portrays are necessarily historically accurate as depicted. Even if they are, the filmmakers could have provided a stronger through-line to connect the events and provide a better sense of overall direction. Mongol is certainly a good film but it’s not great. It even feels a tad pre-programmed, like it was constructed for a U.S. audience that has grown accustomed to the likes of Braveheart and other bloody history epics. I’ll keep a passing notice on whether Mongol Part Two (the rise) and Mongol Part Three (the fall) improve upon Part One.
Nate’s Grade: B