On a list of films it’s impossible to resist watching once you’ve heard about them, John Wayne playing Genghis Khan is surely somewhere near the top. Set in ancient Mongolia, this biopic documents the rise of the great warrior and military tactician.
I read an article recently on the historical accuracy of various biopics, from Selma at the more accurate end, to The Imitation Game in the ‘trampling on facts’ category. Yet in comparison to The Conqueror it looks like a documentary.
Admittedly it’s not meant to be a history lesson, but it’s clearly shot in a hot Californian desert rather than the frozen plains of Mongolia. And worse, while the multiracial cast generally adopt a fairly generic quasi-Mongolian accents, Khan himself speaks like…John Wayne.
What results is a strange hybrid of a historical epic and a cowboy film. The dialogue is not dissimilar from your Spartacuses and Cleopatras, but read by Wayne it just sounds absurd.
The film’s greatest strength is the cavalry battles, although the mounted archers for which Kahn is so famous barely make an appearance. But the huge number of horsemen charging at each other is certainly impressive, even if it feels entirely detached from the events it’s meant to be portraying.
A reasonably entertaining Western, this is about as Mongolian as KFC.