Once a thriving part of the Roman Empire, the city of Pompeii was buried in nearly two stories of volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius exploded in 79 AD. It was a rare volcanic incident that, instead of lava, waves of deadly heat and ash were thrown out that more or less cemented the inhabitants of Pompeii in place, leaving their corpses as eerie evidence when they were unearthed centuries later.
Paul W S Anderson’s ‘Pompeii’ centers on this reality. Dubbed a disaster adventure film which also focuses on two star-crossed lovers ‘Pompeii’ gets off to a promising start with a scene from Milo’s youth. The young lad witnesses his family of Celtic horse tribe being slaughtered by the minions of a Roman senator named Corvus. Around 17 years later the same lad, now a grownup young man, is reintroduced as a slave turned gladiator played by Kit Harrington of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame.
The movie effectively highlights the frivolity of making plans. Corvus has come to Pompeii not only to claim Cassia as his wife but also sponsor her father’s plans in rebuilding the city. Meantime Milo is brought from Brittania and is fated to square off against Pompeii’s reigning champion, Atticus.
As the tug of war for power and love continues Mount Vesuvius waits only making an occasional rumble. This is a sign of the doom which awaits the citizens of Pompeii at the end.
The battle scenes are crisply choreographed. One that particularly stands out is when Milo and Atticus take on a battalion of Roman soldiers. ‘Pompeii’ also offers a visually stunning scale of destruction.
A drawback in the film is that Anderson seems to have staged a lot of tiresome non-action scenes. Milo’s and Pompeiian beauty Cassia’s romance is hardly convincing or charming. The two do not share any romantic vibes as such till the end when they are buried in lava. The only emotion they offer is one of big-eyed sadness. Therefore the climax hardly tugs at our heartstrings.
The fires of Mount Vesuvius seem to be the least of the characters’ concerns at times. The violent release of smoke, fire, and meteoric debris seems to be inserted into the film to increase the dramatic element rather than as its main attraction. Instead Anderson favors fireballs, rains of ash, ground-shredding earthquakes, and a massive tsunami to stir up interest unsuccessfully. Most of the film focuses on the political manipulations of Sutherland’s smirking senator and the lackluster love story between Harington and Browning.
A heart-stopping thriller
‘Pompeii’ has clearly lifted some scenes and lines from movies like ‘Gladiator,’Dante’s Peak’ and ‘The Dark Knight’. It has given a Roman twist to the ‘Titanic’ tale which also focuses on two tragic lovers divided by class scrambling to get to safety amid natural disasters. Meantime their power-drunk nemesis stalks them till the end.
Kit Harington does not seem to be at ease with his character. He seems more confused and intimidated rather than courageous and charismatic. The same could be said of Emily Browning. She hardly seems appropriate for Cassia’s role since she seems older than what the film indicates her to be. One almost wonders what Corvus and Milo sees in her to go to such pains to claim her.
Jessica Lucas is much more charming in contrast to Browning as Cassia’s black lady servant, Ariadne. However the outstanding character in ‘Pompeii’ is Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje who plays Atticus, the African gladiator who is one fight away from earning his freedom. Fearsome and brawny, you believe him as a warrior as he wields weapons and threats. All this he does with a charming smile and a twinkle in his eye showing the viewers that there is heart in his character. Therefore his demise touches the viewers more than that of the protagonists.
Kiefer Sutherland does not make a convincing Corvus. He scowls pontificates and yowls about the glory of Rome too many times. ‘Pompeii’ could have been a heart-stopping thriller yet it ends up being a clichéd love story. ‘Pompeii’ is TicketsLK’s first movie distribution in Sri Lanka. The movie is screening at Liberty Lite cinema.
Ruwini Jayawardana - dailynews.lk