Movie Review: Mongol (Mongolian w/e.s.t)
By Michael Phillips, Tribune Arts Critic
A grandly kitschy rendering of Genghis Khan's early years, the ones revealing how a boy became a ruthless yet humane warrior, devoted family man and all-around good fellow, "Mongol" might as well be called "Braveheart in a Yurt." Director Sergei Bodrov, shooting all over China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, delivers a sympathetic portrait in an attractive frame. The audience-friendly internationalism extends every which way, from the Japanese actor (Tadanobu Asano) who plays Genghis Khan as a young man, to the Dutch cinematographer (Rogier Stoffers), to the editors, Zach Staenberg ("The Matrix") and Valdis Oskarsdottir ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind").
"Do not scorn a weak cub. He may become a brutal tiger." After this title card, "Mongol" gets down to the business of how the cub became the tiger. The story unfurls as an extended flashback, beginning in 1172 with 9-year-old Temudgin (Odnyam Odsuren) galloping across the Mongol steppes with his father. They're off to see the Merkits, a rival tribe from whose ranks the boy will select a bride-to-be. Then comes a quintessential "meet-cute," introducing Temudgin to his predestined pre-teen love Borte (Bayartsetseg Erdenebat). Pick me, she says. And he does, and for decades, "Mongol" goes to great lengths to humanize its warrior subject by bringing these two together, tearing them apart, together, apart, on and on, while their hearts go on.
The director isn't trying to get anyone to look at the historical figure's tactical wiles, or the cost of all that bloodshed, in a challenging way. Mainly "Mongol" is out for pretty pictures and epic photogenic mythmaking. The action, dotted by the digitally fashionable R-rated computer-generated blood globs flying around in slow motion, goes for excitement first and perspective second. On its limited terms the film succeeds. Still, I couldn't help but want something more from "Mongol"-a fuller, more provocative sense of the man behind the bad rep, unwarranted or not.
MPAA rating: R (for sequences of bloody warfare).
Running time: 2:04 Starring: Tadanobu Asano (Temudgin); Khulan Chuluun (Borte); Odnyam Odsuren (Young Temudgin); Bayartsetseg Erdenebat (Young Borte).
Directed by: Sergei Bodrov; written by Arif Aliyev and Sergei Bodrov; photographed by Sergey Trofimov and Rogier Stoffers; edited by Zach Staenberg and Valdis Oskarsdottir; music by Tuomas Kantelinen; production design by Dashi Namdakov; produced by Sergey Selyanov, Sergei Bodrov and Anton Melnik. A Picturehouse release.