July 27, 2009

Justify My Netflix: Mongol

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Mongol, the movie

Today's movie: Mongol, 2007 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because this was one of those infamous international productions that have been getting so much attention in the 2000s, an attempt by a collection of startup companies in places like Asia, Russia and the Middle East to create an action thriller just as visually impressive as one coming out of Hollywood; and not only that, but an action thriller going directly against the usual sensibilities of Western civilization, a bombastic quasi-historical epic about infamous medieval "butcher" Genghis Khan, but one where he is the noble hero and all of us the villains. Because it garnered an Oscar nomination last year, made the top-ten lists of a number of respected American critics, and is just part one of a coming trilogy that I suspect is going to just keep getting more and more popular as it continues. (Part two, The Great Khan, comes out next summer.)

The reality: It's funny, isn't it, how the same blood-and-blades semi-historical frippery that usually gets eyerolls from American critics when made here (think Braveheart) will get raves and Oscar nominations when produced as a subtitled foreign film? Because that's certainly the first thing to understand about Mongol before you sit down and watch it, that it's not much more than some silly, gory "Kevin Costner is a sexy Robin Hood" period piece (with in fact even director Sergei Bodrov admitting that huge chunks of the script are simply made up, in that the Mongols were still a pre-literate society in the late 1100s when this takes place), and with the impressive part being not the story itself but rather that it was pulled off by a series of "third world" professionals who weren't supposed to be able to actually accomplish something this slick-looking, and certainly not for the fraction of the cost of the usual Hollywood production that it took ($20 million, versus the $100 million or more it would take an American production company to make a movie that looks like this). Now, that said, this is undoubtedly on the intelligent high end of the epic action-thriller scale, and easily worth the price of admission alone just for the sweeping views of central Asia where it was filmed; and I admit, it was jarring in a pleasing way to watch a big historical saga like this but where a traditionally-viewed villain was portrayed as a hero, not exactly an apology for the atrocities of the real Genghis Khan but rather a post-nationalism acknowledgment that pretty much everyone was that nasty back then. Although I wouldn't go to any special trouble to see it, it's definitely worth adding to your rental queue or picking up at the store if you accidentally come across it.

Strangest piece of trivia: Altogether, the cast and crew of this production comprised over forty nationalities.

Worth your time? Yes, if you like bombastic gory quasi-historical action thrillers. If not, then maybe not.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 8:18 PM, July 27, 2009. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |