MRR Review: "Pompeii"

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Set in 79 A.D., Pompeii tells the story of Milo, a slave turned invincible gladiator who finds himself in a race against time to save his true love Cassia, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant who has been unwillingly betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator. As Mount Vesuvius erupts, Milo must fight his way out of the arena in order to save his beloved as the once magnificent Pompeii crumbles around him.
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Rating: PG-13
Length: 105 minutes
Release Date: February 21, 2014
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Genre: Action / Adventure / Drama

"Pompeii," directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, is a fast-paced epic that takes the audience to one of the most famous days in history. With standout performances from Kiefer Sutherland and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, this film is sure to be a treat for everyone who loves the "Titanic"-style blend of action and romance.

In the year 79 A.D., the city of Pompeii was completely buried in less than a day when Mt. Vesuvius exploded unexpectedly. Because the city disappeared so thoroughly, it was not until the late 1800s that anyone even knew it existed. The real surprise is that it has taken so long for anyone to make a movie about it.

"Pompeii" tells the story of Milo (Kit Harington), enslaved by the Romans and brought to Pompeii to fight for survival as a gladiator. Milo hardens his heart to survive only to find his emotions reawakened when he falls in love with the beautiful Cassia (Emily Browning). Cassia is not free to love Milo in return, however. Not only is she the equivalent of Roman nobility, being the daughter of wealthy merchant Lucretius (Jared Harris), but she is about to endure a forced marriage to cruel Roman senator Corvis (Kiefer Sutherland). Learning this, however, makes Milo even more drawn to her, because he recognizes Corvis as the warrior who slaughtered his own parents.

All through this, Mt. Vesuvius has been looming in the background over the city as if warning that doom is approaching. When the volcano erupts, all hell breaks loose throughout the city. Giant flaming boulders explode out of the volcano toward the city, setting everything on fire. Clouds of poisonous ash burst forth and eventually pour toward Pompeii as if to swallow it whole. The underground turmoil results in a giant tsumani that takes out the entire Pompeii harbor and part of the city. In the midst of all this destruction, Milo teams up with his erstwhile opponent in the arena, Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), to rescue Cassia and try to escape the disaster.

In a disaster movie like "Pompeii," the special effects often take priority because, after all, that is what the audience is there to see. In "Pompeii," the disaster elements of the movie are indeed very satisfying. The city itself is spectacular, and its destruction is even better. The jaw-dropping power of a volcano has rarely been portrayed on screen and rarely as well as in "Pompeii." The volcano's violence is also historically accurate, with the final impetus of destruction not coming from slow-crawling lava but from the pyroclastic flow that engulfed the real city of Pompeii. The moment when the pyroclastic flow erupts out of Vesuvius, chases the people of the city through the panicked streets and finally overtakes everything (reminiscent of the similar sights seen during the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001) is powerful and frightening.

At the heart of the movie is a beautifully written script by Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler and Michael Robert Johnson. The story is fast-paced, always exciting and, once the volcano action gets underway, absolutely riveting.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson is not known for subtle nuance in directing actors, but he has some fine performers doing very good work. Kit Harington, best known as Jon Snow in "Game of Thrones," simmers with a heated intensity throughout the movie as gladiator Milo, and his abs are pretty hot, too! Kiefer Sutherland is as nasty as can be while remaining restrained and scary as the chief villain, Corvis. Also giving lovely performances are Emily Browning as the beautiful Cassia, Milo's true love, and Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss as Cassia's conflicted parents who want to do right by their daughter but cannot thanks to the machinations of Sutherland's Corvis. A real standout among the cast is Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, best known as Mr. Eko on the ABC show "Lost," as rival gladiator Atticus. His final moments on screen are among the most powerfully moving of the film.

Disaster movies are always exciting and thought-provoking because they raise vital questions in the audience's mind. What would people do if they discovered today was the last day on earth? Would they try to help someone else or just attempt to save themselves? Which people would they choose to help? "Pompeii" prompts all those crucial questions even as it provides non-stop action and excitement. The movie is a thrill ride to the ancient past and a death-defying romance combined, with hot gladiator action as a bonus. Film lovers should not miss this one.

Rating: 3 out of 5