You want a history lesson? Take a class. You want clanging swords, sneering villains, storybook romance, and bloody vengeance? Mongol is a brawny old-school epic to make the CGI tumult of 300, Alexander, and Troy look like sissy-boy slap parties. Do not scorn the weak cub; he may become the brutal tiger, the opening title card reads, and Russian director Sergei Bodrov (Prisoner of the Mountains) shrewdly casts this reverent retelling of Genghis Khan: The Early Years not as the rise of an emperor, but as a classic underdog tale. Using mostly real extras, stuntwork, and staggering locations, Bodrov recounts the 13th-century conquerors path from childhood enslavement to tender lover, doting dad, all-around square dealer, and oh yeah builder of the Mongol Empire. As storytelling, aside from its unobtrusive flashback structure, the movie is as straight as the arrows that fly in close-up a CGI trick that, like most of the movies limited digital effects, is more effective for being seldom used. Its powered by a quietly commanding lead performance by Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano, and by the forceful evocation of its physical details: horses traversing a field of boulders, the heft of its bulky costumes. Last years Academy Award nominee from Kazakhstan for Best Foreign Film, Mongol is purportedly the first in a multifilm saga on the wrath of Khan; as such, its probably the last thing youd expect great fun.
June 20-July 17, 2008