TriStar Pictures via Everett Collection
An hour and change into Pompeii, there's a volcano. You'd think there might have been a volcano throughout — you'd think that the folks inhabiting the ill-fated Italian village would have been dealing with the infamous volcano for the full 110 minutes. After all, volcano movies have worked before. Volcano, for instance. And the other one. But for some reason, Pompeii feels the need to stuff its first three quarters with coliseum battles, Ancient Rome politics, unlikely friendships, and a love story. But we don’t care. We can't care. None of it warrants our care. Where the hell is the volcano, already?
To answer that: it's off to the side — rumbling. Smoking. Occasionally spiking the neighboring community with geological fissures or architectural misgivings. Pretty much executing every trick picked up in Ominous Foreshadowing 101, but never joining the story. Not until Paul W.S. Anderson shouts, "Last call," hitting us with a final 20-odd minutes of unmitigated disaster (in a good way). If you've managed to maintain a waking pulse throughout the lecture in sawdust that is Pompeii's story, then you might actually have a good time with the closing sequence. It has everything you’d expect — everything you had been expecting! — and delivers it with gusto. Torpedoes of smoke running hordes of idiot villagers out of their homes and toward whatever safety the notion of forward has to offer. Long undeveloped characters rising to the occasion to rescue hapless princesses who thought it might be a good idea to set their vacation homes at the foot of a lava-spewing mountain. The whole ordeal is actually a lot of laughs. But it amounts to a dessert just barely worth the tasteless dinner we had to force down to get there.
TriStar Pictures via Everett Collection
To get through the bulk of Pompeii, we recommend focusing all your attentions away from the effectively bland slave/gladiator/hero Kit Harington — sorry, Jon Snow (he's actually called a bastard at one point) — and onto his partner in crime: a scowling Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje — sorry, Mr. Eko (he and Snow actually trade valedictions by saying "I'll see you at another time, brother" at one point) — who warms up to his fellow prize fighter during their shared time in the klink, and delivers his moronic material with a sprinkle of flair. Keeping the working man down is Kiefer Sutherland — sorry, Jack Bauer — as an ostentatious Roman senator, doling out vainglory in Basil Fawlty-sized portions. When he's not spitting scowls at peasants, ol' JB is undermining the efforts of an earnest local governor Jared Harris — sorry, Lane Pryce (he actually calls someone a mad man at one point) — and his wife Carrie-Anne Moss — sorry, Katherine O'Connell from Vegas (joking! Trinity) — and finagling the douchiest marriage proposal ever toward their daughter Emily Browning — sorry, but I have no idea what she's from.
But questionable television references and some enjoyably daft performances by Eko and Jack can't really make up for the heft of mindless dullness that Pompeii passes off as its narrative... until the big showstopper.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
In truth, the last sequence is a gem. It's fun, inviting, and energizing, and might even call into question the possibility that Pompeii is all about how futile life, love, friendship, politics, and pride are when even the most egregiously complicated of plots can be taken out in the end by a sudden volcanic eruption. But you have to wade through that egregious complication to get there, and you shouldn't expect to have too much of a good time doing so.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Prosperous therapist Giovanni's roster of highly neurotic patients are a stark contrast to his own well-adjusted family which consists of his beloved wife Paola and teenage kids Andrea and Irene. The family resides in a picturesque seaside town on Italy's eastern coast where they share a comfortable book-filled apartment adjacent to his office. But the bourgeois comfort they enjoy is tragically upended when son Andrea dies in a diving accident on a sunny Sunday morning. Not dealing well with the profound grief that ensues Giovanni loses interest in his patients Paola withdraws and daughter Irene rebels. Only when Arianna a previously unknown young female friend of Andrea's unexpectedly emerges does the family find closure and begin to understand that life must and can go on.
Well-known Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti is terrific in the carefully nuanced role as Giovanni a confident professional and devoted family man who learns he's as fragile and vulnerable as his own patients. Moretti's accomplishment is all the more noteworthy because he is also the film's director co-writer and co-producer. Laura Morante is warm and touching as the wife and Jasmine Trinca and Giuseppe Sanfelice as the kids are also top-notch. The natural demeanor of all four actors heightens the authenticity of this close-knit family in crisis. The Son's Room also serves up convincing performances in supporting roles especially those of Giovanni's often desperate patients.
Moretti known for less grim subject-matter shows here his ability with melancholy thoughtful drama. He also skillfully shifts the film's moods drifting from mundane family happenings to the often droll behavior of his neurotic patients to an anguished study of grief and loss to welcome cathartic relief. But the critically acclaimed and similarly themed In the Bedroom covers much the same territory and perhaps deservedly has stolen all the thunder. Moretti's drama is sensitively and convincingly told but is runner-up in the current sweepstakes of films about middle-class grief spawned by loss of a good son.