Take a moment to shed a tear for poor Genghis Khan. He wasn’t born ruthless; society made him that way. Or so it seems to Russian director Bodrov (Oscar-winning Prisoner of the Mountains), who adopts Akira Kurosawa’s widescreen-epic approach to the early life of Mongol tribesman Temudjin (aka Genghis Khan).
The scenery is magnificent, the battles impressive, and Japanese film star Asano is ferocious and sympathetic in equal doses as the young Khan. As a grand glimpse into a bygone time, well, they just don’t make ’em like this anymore.
Unfortunately, as an insightful or illuminating examination of what makes a world-class conqueror, Mongol falls woefully short. But, let’s face it, this is history writ huge, and it’s rare that filmgoers get to experience the kind of glorious larger-than-life moviemaking that David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago) once reliably delivered.
At age 9, young Temudjin draws the short end of the stick. His father suffers an untimely death, and the boy who would be Khan (Odsuren) is forced into hiding when a family rival seizes the “throne” and vows to execute him once he reaches puberty. This sets off an endless series of captures and escapes that follows Temudjin well into young adulthood. For nearly 30 minutes, Bodrov and screenwriter Arif Aliyev test our patience with a primitive game of cat and mouse — which would be fine if the episodes revealed something meaningful about our hero, but the fact is, their approach turns Genghis into another boringly noble hero. While researching the facts of their tale, they should have studied Lean’s unique ability to puncture historical myth and reveal the man underneath.
— Jeff Meyers