Attila the Hun. It's a name that conjurers up the deepest feeling of fear in those who hold civilization in high regard, so much so the very name itself has become a by word for barbarian and brutality. With that said, what better character to focus on than in an exclusive two part mini-series, like the 2001 USA Network produced "Attila" does. Starring Gerard Butler in the title role, it's a film that dives into the late stage of Roman history, the rise and increasing strength of the barbarians who would eventually overtake her, and of course, Attila and his ferocious Huns. In the beginning of the film, we are told that Rome, "although weak, decadent, and corrupt", is still the most powerful nation on earth. Then a new people, the Huns, appear on the scene, to challenge the might of Rome herself (Shivers!). From this, we are introduced to Attila as a boy living with his tribe on the Hungarian plains, when one day, a raiding party murders his father and immediate family and it is only through his wits and refusal to back down that Attila survives. After being taken in by his Uncle Rua (Steven Berkoff), Attila grows up to be a master warrior and strategist, competing with his brother Bleda (Chibs himself, Tommy Flanagan) just as much as he is with his uncle's reluctance to take on Rome. He soon gets his chance, though, through a series of events that start with recently released Roman general Flavius Aetius (Powers Booth) coming to the Huns to ask their help in defeating a group of Goths, another barbarian group, who are threatening Gaul (Modern day France). While at first an ally of Aetius and Rome, Attila eventually gains enough power of his own to ransack and invade the Eastern Roman Empire and in time, the West as well. Everything leads up to a battle of wills between the forces of civilization and the barbarian horde, or so the Romans would have us believe. In truth, as history tells us, the Romans were just as savage and conniving in their own way and through this film, we are able to see that as well.
"Attila", although not a perfect film, is entertaining and a fun way to view some history. As far as acting is considered, Gerard Butler pulls the head role off without a hitch. Determined to lead his people to greatness, we never feel that Butler isn't giving it his all in the role, be he riding his horse into battle or acting with depth in the dramatic scenes involving his true love, N'Kara (Simmone Mackinnon). Believing it his destiny to conquer and rule the world, we feel eager for Butler's Attila to succeed, though it should probably be noted that the real Attila was someone who wasn't afraid to massacre people and even whole cities if it suited his purposes and to be fair, the film does show a little bit of that here and there. As to the other roles, everyone here hits their mark, whether it's Power Booth as the scheming but somewhat noble Aetius, Reg Rogers as the childish Emperor Valentinian, Alice Krige as his conniving mother, Placida, or Simmone Mackinnon in the dual roles of N'Kara and Ildico and many more who I don't have the space for. Another plus is the ability of the filmmakers to add a little bit of magic, prophecy, and intrigue to the history the film is depicting. Director Dick Lowry and writer Robert Cochran should be congratulated for making us, the audience, root for the "Scourge of God".
Even though this was produced on a television budget, "Attila" manages to do a reasonably good job of transporting us back in time, albeit with a few inaccuracies. Many of these you can find on IMDb's goofs page, but one prominent example is the Roman uniforms used in the film. By this time, the Roman Empire of Caesar and Augustus was but a distant memory. Rome at this time was broken into two empires - one in the east, the other the west - and was all but relying on barbarian tribes for its defense, which often involved pitting one group against the other. So one would not have seen the impressive legionaries uniforms during this time that you see here. Another big one involves the Huns themselves, who probably would have had Asian features instead of Caucasian ones (Interesting thing about the Huns, though, is that we're still not sure where they actually first came from and it's quite possible they may have intermingled with other peoples during their migration to and time in Europe). Still, mistakes aside, the movie boasts some decently done battle scenes, good action, captivating story telling, and a little bit of sex appeal. "Attila" may not be the most accurate look at the Huns and late Roman history, but why let that spoil a good story? And besides, at the very least, the movie may serve to inspire people to look into the real history of Attila the Hun, as it did me when I saw it as a young boy in my mother's living room all those years ago. And on that note, check out some historical fun and intrigue with 2001's "Attila".
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