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DIRECTOR: Paul WS Anderson
CAST: Kit Harington, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jared Harris and Jessica Lucas
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
CINEMA-GOERS tend to gravitate to movies based on who is directing as much as who is in the film. This is because every filmmaker has a technique that has become their trademark in Hollywood.
When you watch a Martin Scorsese movie, you expect to be stupefied by his prowess as a storyteller. You also know that his stellar-cast movies are accompanied by an onslaught of debauchery, gang violence and F-bombs.
The same can be said of the expectations of rom-com doyen Judd Apatow; sci-fi/ action connoisseur Steven Spielberg or Baz Luhmann, who is famed for his anachronistic style of directing.
Paul WS Anderson is no different. With the Resident Evil franchise as his legacy to date, it goes without saying that action is his forte.
The challenge for him with Pompeii was handling the gladiator battle scenes with the deftness he is known for while also juggling a love story against the backdrop of Mount Versuvius’ volcanic disaster.
Similar to the adage of “too many cooks spoil the broth”, Anderson’s ambition in trying to do justice to the myriad genre shifts that feed into the main story of its hero – Milo (Harington), a slave turned into an unconquerable gladiator who falls in love with Cassia (Browning), an affluent merchant’s daughter – is his downfall.
Set in Pompeii, which is ruled by the Romans, in AD 79, Milo, still haunted by the murder of his entire village and family at the hands of corrupt Roman Senator Corvis (Sutherland) and his men, finds himself drawn to the spirited Cassia.
While Cassia’s father is hoping to increase the riches of the city by striking a deal with Corvis, the threatening tremors of Mount Versuvius go ignored.
In the meantime, the über-controlling Corvis, sensing the mutual attraction between Milo and Cassia, plots to get rid of him in the arena as he has designs on making her his wife.
Aesthetically, this film is shot beautifully. Each frame is like poetry in motion.
Harington was probably signed on due to his Game of Thrones fame. Although he is a talented actor, especially in bringing the angst and intensity of his charac- ter, his small frame does little to sell him as a gladiator. A horse-whisperer? More likely.
And the romance between him and Cassia – that transpires during one hasty horse ride – is laughable. As for Browning, she is over the top with her strong-willed character. After a while, you can’t wait for her to get engulfed by the flames of the calamitous eruption.
Performance-wise, what really worked was Harington’s scenes with Akinnuoye-Agbaje as fellow gladiator Bridgageous. Their solidarity is most inspirational.
Sutherland is a menacingly brilliant antagonist.
Overall, Pompeii goes big on the action but lacks the gravitas of being a compelling story. Perhaps Anderson will stick to his forte from now on. I hope so after this disaster (pun unintended).
If you liked Gladiator, Apocalypto, 300 or The Last Legion you may enjoy this.