Hype will seduce you, you know.  It’s like a woman in a low-cut dress smiling at you from the bar while your drink runs down your shirt.  Who then takes you back to her place, dims the lighting and beckoning you near asks, do you like Scrabble?  Hype, being hope’s younger (and less virtuous) twin, will do that to you.

What that metaphor has to do with this movie, I’m not sure.  But what I do know is that this movie came with a truckload of hype and by the time I had glanced at its page on Rotten Tomatoes, I was ready to declare the Oscars race over.  Let the Scrabble game begin!

I’m supposed to be subtle, and tactically pull the movie apart while casually alluding to its strengths and weaknesses so I can build to a crescendo of critique, but I just can’t do it with this movie.  The part of my brain that screamed I am so, desperately bored, just won’t let me.

Mongol, released January this year, charts the rise and fall, and rise and fall (and yet again) of Genghis Khan, leader of the Mongol Horde which ruled the largest contiguous empire in history.  It details his maturation from boy to man and man to leader.  Intended as the first movie in a trilogy, you might call it a more arty, real-life version of the Phantom Menace.  (When the first comparison you can think of to a movie is the Phantom Menace, you know the movie’s in trouble.) A fine example here is this clip.

The first thing that strikes one about the movie is the cinematography.  It is without doubt the highlight of the movie, perfectly capturing endless seas of grass, rolling hills and mountains of jagged teeth.  Early on its vast emptiness is used to emphasise the Mongol connection to horses;  at one point it is said that to a Mongol man a horse is more important than a woman (especially if they seduce you into playing Scrabble I suppose).

The problem with Mongol, however is that the emptiness of the landscape is symmetrical to the movie’s characters and their development. The movie is clearly intended as a character analysis of a man whose bent on revenge was one of his main motivations, if not his sole focus.  However, there is little analysis of Temudjin (Genghis before he was Khan, played by Tadanobu Asano).

What we get is a lot of Asian stoicism in the face of adversity, and if that is how Temudjin really was, then fine.  But one hundred and twenty six minutes of Asano looking dispassionately into the camera does not pique my attention.  The real crime of it is that I sense Asano could have turned in a classic performance if permitted.  I’m sure even the grat Khan had more human moments than the movie would have us believe.

The other actors are well cast:  Honglei Sun as Jamukha, Temudjin’s blood brother-turned arch enemy;  Khulan Chuluun as Temudjin’s wife;  Odnyam Odsuren as young Temudjin.  They are all capable.  But what point would it have been casting Pacino, Brando and De Niro in the first two Godfather movies if they weren’t given a vehicle in which to entertain?  The plot essentially calls for the capture, escape, recapture and escape of the lead character and his spartan interactions with his wife Borte in the process.  Massive spaces of nothingness between little conversation.

The end result is a beautiful-looking movie with little to really recommend it.  There are also shades of amateur direction – one of the the things that really irked me was the skipping-ahead-fifty-years, which is also a pet peeve.  You can’t jump ten years into the future and a) not tell us;  and b) have everyone looking like they haven’t aged a day.  It doesn’t work, and unfortunately as a technique (or lack thereof) sits well in a movie where nothing really happens.

I’m struggling to devote many more words to this self-indulgent piece.  I don’t genuflect before artiness for its own sake and I do lose patience with movies that become too lost in their own greatness to be bothered entertaining.  Where the Phantom Menace was overcommercialised rubbish that tried to do too much, Mongol does too little.  There is simply not enough material to entertain.  It feels like a successor of sorts, to Director Sergei Bodrov’s 2005 Nomad, a similaly undercooked movie.

In the end, what should be a rollicking guns blazin’ (arrows blazin’?) account of the early life of one of history’s great figures, feels like a trip to an art gallery.  Complete with wasted actors and set piece battles that totally underwhelm, it is the epic non-event of the movie year.

Don’t believe the hype.

Das Critic writes for www.readravereview.blogspot.com 

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