Meet the Barack Obama of 12th-century Asia.

Never trust a Mongol with short hair, especially not back in the 12th century. Directed by Sergei Bodrov (Prisoner of the Mountains), this sweeping biopic about Genghis Khan presents its hero as a kind of long-tressed amalgam of Putin, Moses, and Obama. He's all about rejecting the politics and divisions of the past. He's a new kind of leader, ready to unify the fractious clans of Central Asia into one nation under a new code of law. (For starters, we will no longer kill women and children; then we invade China.) A bit hard to find underneath his mop of hair, Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano plays the grown Genghis with bland nobility. Among all the prayer, reform governance, wooing his wife, and playing with the children, how did he find the time for sharpening his sword and chopping off heads? The battles are relatively few and surprisingly far between for a guy with such a bloodthirsty reputation, and the gore is hardly more plentiful than in the LOTR cycle. The grassy steppes of Central Asia are suitably majestic, but Bodrov's leaden history book lurches back and forth without creating a majestic story. Lawrence of Arabia is obviously the template being followed here, but a compelling hero must have oversized—dare we say Clintonesque?—flaws to enliven the history lessons.

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