This sweeping drama from acclaimed Russian helmer Sergei Bodrov allows much tenderness to seep into something so vast and visceral. One hopes this is just the first chapter in a telling, mythical saga that is hardly hampered by subtitles.
Mongol takes place in the 12th century looking at the boy and man (Odnyam Odsuren and Asano Tadanobu) to be known as formidable ruler Genghis Khan.
When played by Odsuren, the passionate nine-year-old Temudjin has his life turned upside down with the killing of his father (Ba Sen), the head of a clan.
So, this heir (khan) apparent finds a way to keep from foe Targutai (Amadu Mamadakov). With the passing of years he is constantly in servitude, often escaping with the trust of many. He'll have a spouse, Borte, a spirited Khulan Chuluun, and become close with the tenaciously fierce Jamukha (Honglei Sun). And, these mighty military minds are too big for each other which leads to a climactic engagement on the battlefield.
Bodrov gives the onlooker quite a perspective in the staging of many dusty, icy striking sequences that quenches the visual effects of glorious epics like Gladiator and The Lord of the Rings. The director's narrative work with Arif Aliyev puts much thought into Temudjin's emotional landscape, which translates into a vivid portrait by Tadanobu into a haunted, yet honorable man.
Noteworthy backup comes from Sun as the unpredictable confidante and, ultimately, rival, and more so from Chuluun who sparkles even with levity to wish she had a larger part. The use of the Chinese, Japanese, and Mongolian actors in a variety of settings and exchanges is natural and remarkable at the same time.
Mongol demands respect just like the steely, if sensitive Temudjin expects from a sizable population. Gradually, the hordes of arrows, spears, and swords just add to brutal scenes amazingly rendered with logistical precision. One can be overcome at times by the sheer force of it all, yet for all of the standoff-ish lurid activity this production behemoth never dwindles in dramatic poignancy in all of its grand, nasty glory.