Sunday, 31 May 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Mongol: The Rise To Power Of Genghis Khan

I must open this review with the statement that it is rather refreshing to watch a genuinely good film after a recent splurge of extreme violence, martial arts cliches and, well, Southland Tales. This is easily the best film that I have seen over the past month or two since Waz. The film I speak of, quite obviously, is Mongol. Mongol is set to be the first of a Lord Of The Rings-esque trilogy of epics surrounding the life of Temudjin "Genghis" Khan. And judging from this showing, it is a trilogy that the world should keep their eyes on. The story in this one is more or less explained in the title, taking the young Temudjin from his early youth up until his eventual assumption of the role of Khan. The first thing I must say is that the film is certainly much better than most of the epics that Hollywood is churning out. This is one of those examples in which the fact that the film is a foreign language movie seems to make the film a great deal fresher. This is a two-hour film, and by no means does it feel that long. It has the density and lean pace of a movie two-thirds of its length. It does the great job of balancing the difference between "epic" and "overly long." This acheviement is mostly achieved from the direction of Sergei Bodrov. Himself a Russian making a film about a Mongalian ruler, he himself lends a foreign sensibilty to the film, with many moments in the film taking more inspiration from that of 1950's art-house cinema rather than Braveheart and Gladiator as more obvious influences. He manages to create a legitimate character piece while still creating a cracking action flick. Also, it seems that Bodrov himself is collaborating well with his cinematographers Sergey Trofimov and Rogier Stoffers, managing to pull off some truly stunning and remarkable work, from the contrasting arctic winter weather to the soaring heat and desolation of the desert. This is work that also makes the most of it's close-ups. Instead of a script, many times instead it uses visuals, focusing on faces of which come out like maps, jumping out of the screen at you. That is not to say that there is a good script. While Bodrov has himself admitted to artistic liberties, it does not in any way spoil the picture. A great character study has been created here, and the dialogue throughout can be inspiring, quite humourous and at times touching, particularly in the romance between Temudjin and his bride Borte. Helping this well structured script is the actors that have been chosen to portray their respective characters. Tadanobu Asano gives one of the year's best performances as Temudjin, taking over from lead child actor Odnyam Odsuren a quarter of the way through the film. Depicting him from his early twenties, Asano shows the young Khan from his grass roots, how he came to his beliefs, and late in the film, displays a rather subtle character transformation, from being effectively a revolutionary socialist to a ruling despot. It is a role similar to that of Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather. Also great in this film are Khulan Chuluun as Borte, who creates a completely believable wife in a society in which women are effectively inferior, and Sun Honglei as Jamukha. There is an interesting character interaction throughout between the two. Despite being great rivals and fighting for the right to become Khan, the two share mutual respect and retain a code of honour, the two having become blood brothers in their youth. Also working well in this film, particularly in the scenes without dialogue in the orchestral score by Tuomas Kantelinen, creating an interesting mix from what you would expect from old Eastern music and that of the supernatural. This music, used best in the scenes in which Temudjin prays to his god, in which the film creates an interesting mysticism, which lends an eerie sensibiltiy to the whole preceedings going on. Judging by this review so far, I think that most people would assume that this is the latest masterpiece of the year. Unfortunately, as good as this is, it will never be a masterpiece, and once again, The Thin White Dude must rant. As I said previously, the film is the first of a planned trilogy, and thus the film is structured in a manner that caters to a trilogy. I would imagine that the film would be better if seen in context with the other two, but as a singular film, in this sense it begins to have its shortcomings and limitations. And limitations and restraint is the biggest problem about this film. The film seems rather rushed, which while being lean and mean can be a good for a film, this is one of the few solid two hour films that I feel needs more. The scenes which do appear onscreen are great, but nonetheless when watching it, I felt that a lot of material was left on the cutting room floor. Personally, I feel that this could be the Far East's equivalent to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and could survive with the same running times, but it just seems as though it has been released through a Grindhouse double bill, with vital scenes cut out. My conclusion is that it is attempting to accomplish all of it's goals while getting from A to B at the same time. If given more running time, I think that the themes and mysticism that it was clearly trying to establish would have come across far better. A film should be able to stand up on it's own two feet, and not be leaning on the shoulders of sequels, prequels or whatever it may be. Nonetheless, despite the obviously rushed nature of the film (it really did fly by), it is a rather admirable piece of work. I would go so far as to say that it is a great film. This is the film that Che should have been: a thoroughly detailed character study-biopic which get's across the political beliefs at the same time. Mongol is certainly one of the better films of 2008 and is certainly worth seeing.

The Thin White Dude’s Prognosis – 8.6/10

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