Cast: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jared Harris, Jean-Francois Lachapelle, Rebecca Eady, Sasha Roiz
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
The horrific destruction of ancient Pompeii in 79 A.D in a volcanic explosion is a matter of historical record. Director Paul W. S. Anderson’s 3D sword and sandals epic drama begins with a quote from Pliny the Younger, the nephew of the renowned soldier, writer and scholar Pliny the Elder who lambasted Rome for its indulgence (and inability to pay India) for shiploads of silks, spices, gems and jewellery and dancing girls! (Rome was in recession like much of the world today) Pliny the Elder perished in the cataclysmic eruption (not in the streets of Pompeii but the bay at Stabiae) which his nephew watched (and recorded) from the safe distance of Misenum. I’m afraid neither of the Plinys are to be found in this film which is the latest in a series of TV and widescreen features, whose focal point is the eruption of Mount Vesuviius near Naples in southern Italy.
Anderson’s film is engrossing with the tension building steadily, from the opening sequence’s Roman massacre of a Celtic rebellion in Londinium, Brittany through the emotional drama of the star-crossed, wracked by the longing for freedom and love, before the fury of the volcanic Vesuvius explodes upon all, free citizenry, gladiators and slaves.
The prologue introduces us to the Roman cohort responsible for the Celtic suppression led by Sutherland, a decadent senator bent on extending the unjust reign of the Emperor Andronicus all through the Empire. He descends on Pompeii where the object of his machismo lust is Cassia (Australian actress Emily Browning, brown haired and maidenly in a far departure from her blonde babydoll turn in Sucker Punch). But she develops feelings for Milo (Kit Harington), a slave turned gladiator (who had escaped the massacre) and fights for his life inside the city’s coliseum alongside other slave/gladiators like Atticus (A dewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).
I don’t want to say the outcome (death and destruction) is predictable in the wake of quakes, ships ploughing through land after tidal waves and monstrous fireballs zooming like missiles. But through nature’s fury is the inspirational message that love and freedom are worth fighting for, just the Monuments Men suggests that art and culture are worth dying for.