Although superbly filmed in 70mm, The Fall of the Roman Empire feels cynical compared to the bombastic emphasis on scale and spectacle employed by Ben-Hur (1959) and Cleopatra (1963) – which should come as little surprise, given the proclivities of its director, the great Anthony Mann.
Not that the film wants for scale or spectacle either, both of which remain plentiful in Mann’s wintry widescreen vistas. It’s more that it actively suppresses any triumphalism in favour of a masochistic sense that the epoch’s end is predetermined.
To which end, its sensibilities feel strikingly modern, even as it possesses a tactility of design that could never be replicated in our CG-reliant era.
Narratively speaking, it shares a kinship with Gladiator (2000), but Mann’s poised frames, encompassing an increasingly desolate strangeness, knock that young upstart’s pretensions for six.
Rafael Luis Calvo
Lena von Martens