“Nomad: The Warrior” – A.J. Hakari

I don’t know about you, but for me, the word “epic” has a number of connotations. When I hear this word, I imagine sweeping vistas, passionate romance, and gripping battle sequences, all set against the backdrop of a powerful story. The Weinstein Company’s Nomad: The Warrior gets the basics down pat, but in this case, actually being good doesn’t seem to be part of the job description.

The first major motion picture to emerge from Kazakhstan, Nomad tells the story of this eastern European country’s blood-soaked beginnings. Our tale begins in the early 18th century, as the peaceful and nomadic Kazakh tribes find themselves under almost constant attack by marauders and warring tribes, especially the Jungars from Mongolia. The tribes must band together for good if their homeland is to survive and prosper, and many, including wise man Oraz (Jason Scott Lee), believe that their saving grace is a warrior who is prophecized to rise and lead the Kazakhs to victory. Years down the road, this savior arrives in the form of Mansur (Kuno Becker), a noble young man who more than knows his way around a sword. But when the Jungars prepare for their most merciless attempt at invasion yet, with his secret sweetie (Ayana Yesmagambetova) kidnapped in the process, Mansur will have to realize his destiny fast and become the great warrior he was born to be.

Nomad: The Warrior could best be described as an ambitious mess, and considering that the Weinstein Company is involved (with their increasingly spotty track record), this isn’t the least bit surprising. First and foremost, Nomad has a hard time deciding what it wants to be and what sort of audience it’s aiming for. The obvious passion for the subject gives one the impression that this is a Kazakh-born portrait of how it came together as a nation, but the inclusion of western actors hurls the story into one confusing loop. I’m positive there were numerous native actors who could have played the lead parts to maybe even better effect, but no, for some reason, viewers of Nomad are stuck with such names as Becker, Lee, Jay Hernandez (as Mansur’s best friend), and Mark Dacascos (as a particularly villainous Jungar) headlining a film about the birth of Kazakhstan. The film’s DVD further enflames the confusion, as it contains both a Kazakh audio track that laughably dubs over the English-speaking performers and an English track that does the same for those native members of the cast.

Throw in the fact that the movie was shut down at one point during production and ended up being helmed by two different directors, and you have yourself a garden-variety, “Gladiator lite” epic that someone overthought by an astronomical margin. For all the effort put into the production, Nomad sure isn’t all that entertaining when it comes down to it. There are a few likable touches scattered through out, including some picturesque cinematography, Lee’s rather decent performance as the sage-like Oraz, and Ayana Yesmagambetova’s welcome presence as Mansur’s fetching sweetheart. But as far as action and story goes, Nomad feels like it’s building up to a fever pitch that it never reaches. The script is riddled with speeches about freedom and standing up for one’s people, but it seems like every time the movie launches into a battle, it ends earlier than it should, as if the filmmakers were afraid to leave a lasting impression or get their hands too dirty. The plotting is also really scattershot, with a bevy of go-nowhere subplots (one including masking Mansur’s identity as a child that really has no purpose) that only serve to beef up the running time.

Kazakhstan’s lush, violent, and turbulent origins are ripe with the potential for a motion picture masterpiece to be based off of them. But from the way Nomad: The Warrior owns up to this challenge, Kazakhs are going to have to wait a little while longer for that movie to come along.

 

Rating: ★★☆☆

 

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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