“Mongol” is looking to call its own shot with big, wet cinematic brush strokes of epic storytelling, blood-spattered violence, heroic romanticism, volatile brotherhoods, tragic childhood trauma, historical leanings, and animalistic mysticism. After two excruciating hours watching the film, I will say it’s all very epic. It’s like watching paint dry, but still epic.
As a young Mongolian boy, Temudjin watched as his father ruled the land, only to be betrayed and poisoned, leaving the child helpless to violent opportunists. Throughout the years, Temudjin would find enemy capture over and over, only to break free and attempt to establish a life for himself with his beloved bride Borte. Now older, Temudjin (Tadanobu Asano) grows tired of running and observing his fellow countrymen display a lack of battlefield etiquette, and he attempts to unite his own army of honor and concentrated wrath, introducing the world to the man known as Genghis Khan.
Sergei Bodrov’s “Mongol” is an ambitious, widescreen story detailing the formation of one of history’s most famous conquerors and his embattled life before the accumulation of unstoppable power. It’s an experience imparted with a Dave Lean-like attention to marathon pacing and profound screen depth, peppered with more modern touches of bloodshed and a metalesque musical flavoring. It’s a curious film that presents familiar operatic touches of melodrama and betrayal, yet the pace of the thing is strictly glacial, robbing the gargantuan push of storytelling the picture is desperate to command.
The interest of “Mongol” comes in viewing a man who took power not out of lust, but out of fatigue. Bodrov posits Temudjin as a thorn in the side of the warlords of the area; an observant boy who grew into a man no one had the spiritual might to kill, leaving him a nomad who focused intently on his love Borte to help him through times of imprisonment and separation. It’s a circular story in which Temudjin is trapped in constant pursuit, yet the film is careful enough to add layers of dissatisfaction and resentment to the character throughout the screenplay, bringing him to the moment of imperial acceptance gradually instead of making Temudjin’s ascent to a Khan a scattershot last-minute leap like many bio-pics are prone to do.
“Mongol” isn’t a careless production, but I came out of the film wondering why it wasn’t more gripping. The performances are uniformly terrific, bringing needed regality and some twitches of insanity to the characterizations. The cinematography brings out the chilling bleakness of the landscape, making for a perfect backdrop to Temudjin’s isolation. The battle sequences also contain some spitfire when the film finally gets around to them, displaying the ideal amount of brutality and peril.
Regardless of its pristine production quality, “Mongol” just never ignites. Bodrov’s distanced, controlled direction fails to grab the senses; he’s more enamored with static atmosphere than thundering drama, leaving the already thin, historically-iffy plot gasping for air, aching for anything to jumpstart the excitement. For a motion picture about man who changed the world on his own terms, one would think his life story would be a riveting experience, not something that requires a pot of coffee and occasional magazine breaks to enjoy.Rating: C