When you think of a film portraying the life and times of Genghis Khan you’d picture hours of solid rape and pillaging, with bodies strewn across fields as far as the eye can see. Having been a movie produced in Kazakhstan you’d expect a touch extra when it came to the violence, surprisingly the movie is almost the exact opposite. From writer and director Sergei Bodrov, Mongol focused on what made Genghis Khan, played by Tadanobu Asano, the man he was and how he ruled differently than other Mongols, a style which ultimately gave him control of a large portion of the world.

Born in 1162, Genghis Khan, or Temujin as he’s known as during the movie, went on to unite the various Mongol tribes into a force that eventually conquered most of Asia. The movie attempts to remain as faithful as possible to the factual accounts of the man despite the numerous holes in Khan’s history. Depending on who you ask he was either a savior or a sociopath. His people knew him as a great uniting visionary, and those who where conquered by him consider him a genocidal maniac. The film portrays Temujin as a born leader with compassion, yet strong resolve.

The film starts early in Temujin’s life, as he’s taken by his father, the khan of his nomadic tribe, to a neighboring clan to pick a wife at the age of 12. While traveling to the clan they make a stop at a small village where Temujin’s father is close friends with the tribes khan. The boy decides on a wife from the small village before they reach their intended destination, this is the first hint that he doesn’t follow tradition. The girl becomes the love of his life, and the focus of his will to survive. Yes, much of Mongol focuses on a love story between Temujin and his wife Borte, played by Khulan Chuluun.

While returning home, his father is poisoned by a neighboring tribe. It’s this scene that impacts the rest of the film, influencing all of his future decisions. With his father dead, Temujin is dispossessed of his tribe, and his family is left to fend for themselves. He must live on the run or else risk capture, enslavement or murder at the hands of his rivals. The film focuses on tradition, and the way it influences people to act against their own best interests. Decisions are repeatedly made in the name of tradition to the detriment of the individuals making them, and often they are made to pay dearly.

Temujin is beaten, enslaved, recaptured, re-enslaved, and suffers the kind of cruelty that is the bread and butter of a nomad. Tradition doesn’t suit him well and it’s no wonder the future khan had little use for it. Loved by those that served under him, he developed a following that would go anywhere and do anything for him. It eventually propelled him to Khan and ruler of most of Asia. Throughout the film Temujin did what was best for him and his family, to ensure survival. His ultimate quest for survival led to something far greater.

While the story of Mongol is told well, it’s the manner in which it’s presented that really stands out. The cinematography is outstanding, the beautiful shots of the Mongolian steppe as well as the different locations throughout the land, portraying just how vast the distances involved in the travel taking place in the film. The costumes are authentic, ranging from the poor to the extravagant. Every attention to detail was given great care an it shows how visually stunning the movie is. The acting is also impeccable. All of the actors fill their roles in admirably and portray how grim it was living on the steppes. Bodrov’s directing was outstanding as well, although there were a few scenes which could have been shorted and nothing would have been lost.

Mongol is not your typical hack and slash film action, it’s clearly aimed at a different audience. While the film may have been different then what I was expecting, the fact that it was beautifully shot, well acted, and had a clear focus made for a thoroughly enjoyable experience.