A few years back, Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev decided it was high time that his great country's history be honored in a film that was rooted firmly in the nation's past. An interesting idea and not one that's been played out much in cinema at all - aside from Borat, can you think of another film that's really dealt with Kazakhstan much at all? A writer named Rustam Ibragimbekov came up with the script but the movie ran into problems while it was being made and original director Sergei Brodrov was replaced by substitute filmmaker Ivan Passer. Keeping the directorial shift in mind while watching the film, if nothing else, helps explain some of the movie's rampant disjointedness, but it doesn't excuse what is, unfortunately, a very messy film.
The storyline, such as it is, is set in 18th century Kazakhstan where a relative of Genghis Khan named Mansur (Kuno Becker) is all set to embrace his manly status and bring together the various factions of the then tribal nation. Before he becomes known throughout the land as the warrior Ablai Khan, he's prophesized over and it is told that he will soon finds himself in the unenviable position of having to lead an uprising against Galdan Ceren (Doskhan Zholzhaxynov, the ruler of the nasty Jungar tribe. Not one to take this lightly, Ceren tries to have young Mansur murdered but he's saved in the nick of time by Oraz (Jason Scott Lee), a philosopher who raises him and trains him to embrace his destiny. While growing up, however, Mansur is unaware of his heritage but he and his brother, Erali (Jay Hernandez), have trained hard. Unfortunately, they've both fallen for the same girl, Gaukhar (Ayanat Yesmagambetova). While she cares only for Mansur, this comes into play later when the Jungar's kidnap her and try to force her to marry one of their men, Sharish (Mark Dacascos), who may or may not have killed Mansur's mother.
That plot synopsis might be a bit all over the place, but it's quite a bit easier to follow than the movie itself which is told in piecemeal form and is really little more than some really dodgy character development crammed in between one action scene after the next. It seems as if every time the action slows the script tries to throw in another plot twist, but it gets to the point where it's all rather ridiculous and no longer anything remotely resembling a linear story. You'll likely finding yourself scratching your head as character's shift allegiances and as the plot jumps around like a cracked out bullfrog and as such it's tough to get much in the way of entertainment value out of the picture at all.
What the film does have going for it is some very impressive camerawork that does a great job of capturing the rugged and not often filmed Kazakhstani landscape. This does manage to make a picture perfect backdrop for all of the countless sword fights and chase scenes (some of which showcase some impressive horseback riding and stunt work) but it's not enough to save the picture. When a story forces you to think, it's generally regarded as a good thing but Nomad: The Warrior doesn't do that so much as it asks you to sort of fill in the blanks and make things up as you go along. Visually this is a decent effort, at times even an impressive one, but you really can't polish a turd not matter how hard you might want to or how hard you might try.
Nomad: The Warrior looks good in this AVC encoded 2.35.1 1080p high definition transfer even if it can't best the latest big budget blockbuster production. The film has a decidedly toned look to it, almost bathing it in gold and soft orange in certain scenes, which seems to fit well with its period aesthetic. Close ups show good facial detail and while the movie is a bit soft in places, due to how it was shot and how it was filtered, overall things look pretty solid. Black levels waver in a couple of spots but are generally strong enough and there isn't much in the way of shimmering, edge enhancement or compression artifacts to complain about.
The sound quality on this release, handled by an English DTS-HD 5.1 track or a Kazakhstani Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix is pretty decent, showing some nice surround usage during the battle scenes and allowing some welcome ambient noise to fill in the blanks during some of the more relaxed scenes. Dialogue is generally easy enough to decipher amidst the carnage thanks to some well balanced levels and if bass response won't knock a hole through your roof, it will occasionally make you stand up and take notice.
Aside from promo spot before the menu loads, there are chapter selections. Really though, there are no extra features on this release.
Nomad: The Warrior certainly looks and sounds better on Blu-ray than it ever did on DVD, but there hasn't been any additional work put into the supplemental side of this release and the movie itself is still an unfortunately misguided mess. It looks good, features some nice cinematography and some cool ideas, and has a couple of keen cast members working in its favor, but it just never comes together the way that it should and the end result is remarkable only for how disjointed it all feels. Skip it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.