I saw this a couple of weeks ago at the Seattle film festival.
I give it a B.
Historical accuracy is solid, within the typical boundaries of historical moviemaking. It sticks to known facts in the broad strokes, and fudges only a few of the details (condensing two people into one character, and the like). There’s a couple of scenes where a bit of mysticism creeps in, suggesting that Temujin has been touched by God and is getting some extra help from above, if you know what I mean, but those moments are fleeting.
The most unsatisfying aspect of the movie is structural. See, Temujin’s march to greatness was not a straight line of accumulating power. More than once in his life, he had amassed a certain amount of strength (warriors, wealth, land), and then a more powerful warlord came along and crushed him. He escaped, regrouped, and started over.
The problem with the movie is that they don’t show this regrouping; they don’t explain how Temujin is able to go from having nothing but his name, title, and force of will to having an army of loyal soldiers around him. More than once, we watch Temujin suffer a crushing defeat, and scamper off into the hills; then we see a subtitle, “six months later, with his new army…” That, to me, elides the most fascinating element of the man’s story, how he’s able to walk empty-handed into a group of men and convert them to his cause. In my opinion, that’s what makes Temujin’s story, and Temujin himself, so extraordinary. It’s also, probably, the most difficult part of explaining his life, because leaders at that level come along so infrequently that it’s nearly impossible to identify with and perceive them as individuals; trying to portray a man like this would be insanely challenging for a modern filmmaker.
As such, it’s understandable why the filmmakers might have been intimidated by these transitions, and chose simply to skip over them. (It’s also the part of his life that’s least understood, historically speaking, and would require the most fictionalization, so they’re the easiest scenes to sacrifice in the name of accuracy.) The downside is, watching the movie, watching scene after scene where he starts with some power but gets his ass kicked and runs away, you start to get the feeling that a better title for the piece might be “The Many Failures of Genghis Khan.”
Still, it’s a pretty good movie; it looks great, and you really feel like you’ve been taken back to the period. I can recommend it, despite the fits and starts in the storytelling, and the feeling of being shortchanged on what should have been the most interesting part of the narrative.