Nomad" reps Central Asia's ambitious, first ever event movie. Although begun by Czech New Wave alumnus Ivan Passer ("Intimate Lighting"), and then finished after a production hiatus by Russian helmer Sergei Bodrov ("Bear's Kiss"), pic fits seamlessly together although it is somewhat generic in flavor, with an off-the-shelf narrative arch and characterizations drawn using broad brushstrokes.

Nomad” reps Central Asia’s ambitious, first ever event movie. Although begun by Czech New Wave alumnus Ivan Passer (“Intimate Lighting”), and then finished after a production hiatus by Russian helmer Sergei Bodrov (“Bear’s Kiss”), pic fits seamlessly together although it is somewhat generic in flavor, with an off-the-shelf narrative arch and characterizations drawn using broad brushstrokes. Nevertheless, brawny historical actioner, acquired by the Weinstein Co. for U.S. distribution and pre-sold to several international territories, has noble looks and romps along nicely. Pic is likely to storm through Asia most successfully, with weaker but decisive victories offshore.

Arguably the biggest Kazak production since Khoja Ahmed Yasavi built a mausoleum for Tamerlane in 1389, pic is rumored to have cost about $40 million. If so, nearly every tenge (Kazakhstan’s local currency) and euro from French-based co-production partner Wild Bunch is visible on screen, judging by pic’s elaborate costumes, sets and cast of a thousand or so — real people not digitally generated extras.

Impetus for pic reportedly came from Kazak prez Nursultan Nazarbayev himself. Apparently, he wanted a film made depicting the history, landscapes and faces of his nation, although ironically pic’s main face is a Mexican, (Kuno Becker, from “Goal!”), while three of its other principal thesps (Jay Hernandez, Jason Scott Lee, Mark Dacascos) are Yanks.

Screenplay by Russian scribe Rustam Ibragimbekov (“Burnt by the Sun”) blends sketchy facts about historical figure Ablai Khan (an 18th century Kazak military strategist whose efforts at unification helped to create Kazakhstan’s borders), with shades of the biblical book “Exodus,” Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator,” and that film’s 1964 exemplar “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” among many others from the epic back catalog.

Mystical Kazak warrior Oraz (Lee) warns Galdan Ceren (Doskhan Zholzhaxynov), the leader of the invading Jungars from western Mongolia who are occupying Kazak lands, that a child will be born soon who will eventually unite the many local rival tribes to set his people free.

Thinking that the son of a local sultan is the prophesized one, Galdan sends assassins to kill him. However, Oraz manages to save the boy, named Mansur, and raises him with others to be a fierce warrior and believe in the possibility of a unified Kazak state.

Mansur’s best friend from childhood is Erali (Hernandez), and as soon as the two are seen as kids battling each other with full face masks it’s obvious that they’ll be forced to square off later with more deadly results, especially when they both take a fancy to spirited filly Gaukhar (the delicately featured Kazak actress Ayanat Yesmagambetova).

Gaukhar is abducted by nefarious Jungar swordsman Sharish (Dacascos), whom Mansur (Becker) goes one-on-one with in one of pic’s key set pieces which, like many of the action sequences here, makes fine use of slow motion lensing and effectively gets across the crunching, metallic brutality of sword-to-sword combat without reveling in gore.

Ibragimbekov’s script fearlessly embraces cliche and solemn-sounding banalities (“Like night and day, good and evil are always together…”), but Passer and Bodrov, assisted by (per credits) “local director” Talgat Temenov, have enough skill to make “Nomad” compelling by dint of old-school sincerity and sheer spectacle.

Cast isn’t called on to do much complex emoting, but they serve the vehicle well with the necessary displays of athletic prowess and toothsome looks, particularly from the virile Becker.

Widescreen lensing, credited to Ueli Steiger (“The Day After Tomorrow”) and Dan Laustsen (“Silent Hill”), fulfils President Nazarbayev’s wish to show off Kazakhstan’s romantically windswept, treeless steppes. Score by Carlo Siliotto adds drama without sliding into the overwrought, and rest of tech package is well above average.

Nomad

Kazakhstan-France

Production

A Weinstein Co. release (in U.S.) of a Kazakhfilm (Kazakhstan)/Wild Bunch (France) production, in association with Irbus, True Stories Prods. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Pavel Douvidzon, Ram Bergman, Rustam Ibragimbekov. Executive producers, Milos Forman, Sergey Azimov, Serik Zhybandykov. Directed by Sergei Bodrov, Ivan Passer. Local director, Talgat Temenov. Screenplay, Rustam Ibragimbekov.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Dan Laustsen, Ueli Steiger; editors, Rick Shane, Ivan Lebedev; production designer, Miljen "Kreka" Kljakovic; costume designers, Marit Allen, Michael O'Conner; sound designer (Dolby Digital), Jonathan Miller. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (Piazza Grande), Aug. 4, 2006. Running time: 112 MIN.

With

Kuno Becker, Jay Hernandez, Jason Scott Lee, Doskhan Zholzhaxynov, Ayanat Yesmagambetova, Mark Dacascos. (Kazakh dialogue)
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