Saturday, January 5, 2008

MSCU Review: "The Last Legion"

"What we do here will echo across eternity"

- Aurelius

An ironic line coming from an utterly forgettable movie doomed to ignominy. In all honesty, The Last Legion isn't a bad movie, it simply lacks any sense of originality. Chances are that if you like the 'historical epic' genre, you will have already seen everything this movie has to offer.

The plot takes place in the late Roman empire at its alleged 'fall.' Simply put, The Last Legion has an extremely tenuous grasp upon historical accuracy. Any historical content the movie has to offer is at best half-true and at worst an outright lie. In true stereotypical fashion Romans are presented as the last bastion of civilization while Germanic peoples are shown as a flood of barbaric simpletons. The film ventures into falsehood by creating a mythical, and entirely anachronistic, sword of Gaius Julius Caesar which is pivotal to the plot.

I am not, however, a stickler for historical accuracy in film (see my review of A Knight's Tale). But if one is going to play fast and loose with history, one should be doing so to serve a greater purpose. The anachronism of A Knight's Tale gave the film a sense of whimsy and charm which set it apart from the legion of dower historical epics which inundate theaters each year.

In contrast, the poor history of The Last Legion comes across as mere laziness on behalf of the production team. It seemed as if they couldn't be bother to do their homework. The film does not aspire to greatness; as a result it feels like 'just another historical epic.'

While The Last Legion doesn't aspire to greatness it has a potentially great cast. Like the film itself, the cast fails to exert any energy and falls prey to mediocrity. The film stars the 'smoldering' Colin Firth as the blandly heroic Roman general Aurelius, Ben Kingsley as the mystical Ambrosinus, and Kevin McKidd (of Rome fame) as the barbarian Wulfila.

If any three actors should excel in an historical epic, it should be these three men. Sadly, these men are not used to the best of their ability. Firth is given such a generic character that his Aurelius comes across as wooden. Kingsley appears to be more interested in his pay-cheque than his role, investing little to no spirit into his role.

As a huge fan of HBO's epic drama Rome, I find the handling of McKidd's character a great disappointment. The actor is dressed to look like the prototypical barbarian. This costume, however, obscures the actor's face with unkempt hair. The script calls for McKidd to express menace and anger, two emotions which the actor is more than capable of expressing. His costume, however, reduces the visibility of his face, therefore, diminishing the range of emotion he can convey. This problem is further compounded by poor direction which rarely provides McKidd with close-ups during his scenes. The director has an odd habit of focusing on the faces of other actors while McKidd is speaking. These problems combine to make McKidd a less than effective villain. Once again, opportunity is squandered.

Poor direction is not limited only to the film's villain, The Last Legion also suffers from poor editing. One scene in particular sticks in my mind. In this scene Firth's character engages in a flirtatious duel with his eastern love-interest Mira (played by Aishwarya Rai). The duel begins in a town centre and then immediately shifts to a forest. With one cut the scene shifts locations. I suppose that the two characters moved into a more secluded location to finish their sparing, but the change of location is jarring. For a few moments I was confused. This confusion could have been avoided by better editing. While this one scene stands out in my mind, there were other examples of needlessly confusing editing.

In conclusion, there are few redeeming qualities of this film. The Last Legion does not aspire to greatness. It aspire to mediocrity and achieves this goal. Every aspect of the film whether it be historical accuracy, story or editing is passable but lacks any sense of energy, originality or quality. If you like the genre, you will have already seen every this movie has to offer and likely in a superior form. With that said, if you simply must watch a movie set in the Middle Ages there are considerably worse options available.

MSCU Rating:


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