An unusual disaster film in that it is focused not on the cycle of destruction/reconstruction that is at the genre’s center, but in the idea of dying (even the romantic plot is kick-started by a merciful kill). It uses the gladiator subplot to introduce the idea of role playing, and from that the importance of gestures and what their permanence says about each character and that permanence becomes the film’s main thrust right down to its predictable but moving final shot. Pompeii starts very slowly, the self-serious tone cuts down on the juvenile spirit that’s often part of Anderson’s films (outside of one jokey death to an extra very late) and the film feels a bit unsure about it and there is no amount of loving close ups of Harrington and Browning that will turn Anderson into an apt director of romance (that hurts a little the ending affectivity, but Pompeii’s sincerity mostly makes up for it). That said those early scenes do a great job of mapping the city, one runs the risk of overrate Pompeii because it is visual intelligent (and to the point) in an era where large budget American filmmaking is so often a mess (and even more certainly overblown), but there is a genuine pleasure in watching how Anderson establishes the place. From the moment the gladiators step into the arena onwards Pompeii kicks into gear and Anderson’s control – both his staging of action and his feel for enclosed space – turns the film into one long rush towards death. The combination of 3D and artificial sets add to an overall feel of entrapment, it is like the characters just walk into a digital version of the titular set of Edgar G Ulmer’s The Cavern. The film becomes an interplay between the actors disconnect with place and nature’s judgment of them. The final hour is a series of elaborate set pieces with little in the way of connective scenes and if some of them are just effective, most are a marvel of smart action filmmaking. Also, everything to do with Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje gladiator is top notch and I’m glad the film is almost as much his romance with Harrington as it is about the main couple.

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