Genius Products // 2005 // 111 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // July 30th, 2007
Kicking-Ass with Swords and Exploding Cannons to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
And that's the only Borat reference I'll make in this review, because, despite the flogging the Kazakh culture receives in that movie, this epic shows that these people are badass.
The Kazakh nation is in tatters. These people, who trace their lineage to Genghis Khan, have splintered into multiple tribes, each looking out for its own. And despite the threat of invasion, the culture refuses to unite as one to repel their fiercest enemy: the Jungars.
Led by their finest warrior, Sharish (Mark Dacascos, Brotherhood of the Wolf), the Jungars are hell-bent on taking control of the Kazakh homeland (for some reason). Wise-man Oraz (Jason Scott Lee), however, predicts that a Kazakh will arise to lead his people to victory. This kid turns out to be the sultan's son, Mansur (Kuno Becker), and Oraz takes the boy in to train him in the ways of leadership and fighting. Mansur befriends Erali (Jay Hernandez, Hostel) another lethal Kazakh warrior. But the love of a common woman will send them on different paths, and only one will rise up to face the Jungars.
First things first: please discount the shameless disc case design, a transparent rip-off of 300, down to the bloodily-scrawled title font. Nomad is the opposite of 300 on the "battle epic" scale. There is very little CGI employed in the action scenes (maybe a few arrows and some blood spurts) and everything was filmed on location in Kazakhstan with real dudes riding real horses.
So points right away for the realness of the film. This is truly an epic-looking epic and as the most expensive production to come out of Kazakhstan those rubles or dinars or whatever are evident on screen (actually a quick check on the internets tells me that the official currency of Kazakhstan is "tenge," so forgive my cultural ignorance displayed earlier in the sentence). Really, Nomad looks like it could easily be a Hollywood epic and that's to the credit of the filmmakers (and, yeah, the Weinsteins too).
However fellow big-battle movie lovers, before you stop reading to dash out and buy this one off the shelf, allow me to dampen the euphoria with a few shots of cold water. Nomad isn't the perfect under-the-radar gem.
No Holy @#$%! Moments
I know this sounds sort of trite, but if you're a sucker for movies like these you know the importance of those kick-ass sequences that demand the film earn a repeat spin. Gladiator has the whole "unleash hell" thing at the beginning, Braveheart boasts the greatest horse-skewering ever put to film, Return of the King and its giant-elephant massacre, but I can't really point to anything in Nomad that earns must-see honors. The battle scenes are well-staged, but even now, only a day after watching the film, I can't recall many specifics of what went down. The closest examples of memorable sequences are: 1) the decent Sharish/Mansur fight on horseback and 2) lots of exploding cannons at the end. Beyond that, nothing stands out.
So Oraz drafts the best of the best from the Kazakh tribes and trains them to be an elite fighting unit. Unfortunately -- they don't do any elite fighting! This deserves a giant GOB Bluth "Come on!" Heck, even Mansur, the primary stud in the film, does very little in the major action set-piece, the climactic showdown with the Jungars. This was a real narrative misstep and glaring example of squandered potential. A band of Kazakh hardballers laying the smackdown on bad guys? How fantastic would that have been?!? Even the love triangle, which looked at first to hold some dramatic weight, fizzled out.
I hate to make it sound like I dislike this film, because I don't. The fact that it's so well-executed and beautifully shot immediately disqualifies it from Crappy Movie Contention and the actors are all into it (and props to the Westerners who had to deliver their lines in a difficult-sounding language, though I wasn't able to determine if dubbing occurred). I was just hoping for beefier action, and felt that the promise was there at first, but my dreams of bodacious Eurasian swashbuckling went unsatisfied. On the other hand, I learned a little bit about the tumultuous history of Kazakhstan, though I'm not entirely sure why so many invaders were compelled to take the land -- the barren steppe looks less hospitable than the surface of Jupiter.
With an extras-free release such as this, it's all about the technical merits, and Nomad is both a looker and a...er...sounder. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen is up to the task; lots of sweeping landscapes and even with the minimal variety of scenery, it still looks great. Action sequences are crisp and detailed and easy to follow. The 5.1 mix (English dubbed and Kazakh) is loud and aggressive and, at some points, booming.
I was primed for a raucous good time, but Nomad simply failed to deliver the requisite number of cool moments and compelling storytelling to lift it much higher than "slightly better than mediocre."
The accused is sentenced to two more months of aimless wandering.
Review content copyright © 2007 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Unknown, Kazakh)
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Official Site