moviebuff801: Time Capsule Reviews: Gladiator (2000)

Posted: December 3, 2012 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

Release Date: May 5th, 2000

Running Time: 2 hours and 35 minutes

Written by: David Franzoni, John Logan and William Nicholson

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris

From my perspective, there seems to have been something of a backlash in recent years to Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, and to those people, I feel like quoting the film’s hero in saying, “Are you not entertained?!”  I admit it took me a while to really warm up to this movie, but now that I have, I can say in full confidence that I find Gladiator to be a tremendously exciting film that echoes the old-school epics of Hollywood and boasts meaty performances and a grippingly-told story to boot.  I am, most assuredly, entertained every time I watch it now.

The movie opens in 180 A.D., where General Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe), commander of the Roman Army under the aged Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), is preparing a final assault on Germanic tribes at Vindobona.  After winning the battle, and thus the praises of the Emperor, Maximus starts to look forward to finally returning home to his wife and son after serving the Empire for so many years.  However, the arrival of the Emperor’s son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) and daughter Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) obstructs this.  Commodus is a loyal son who has spent his whole life wanting to gain the acceptance and love of his father, only to be continually brushed away time and again, but it’s finally the Emperor’s decision to entrust his duties to Maximus upon his passing that drives Commodus over the edge.  Through a tragic set of circumstances, Maximus finds himself outcast by his government and sentenced to death, along with his family.  Eventually, he becomes a slave in the care of Proximo (Oliver Reed), who trains his slaves to become gladiators and soon enough, Maximus is back in Rome fighting in the prestigious Roman Colosseum as a gladiator, intent on seeking revenge against Commodus, who is now the new reigning Emperor.

Now, I mentioned there being naysayers against this movie who’ve seemingly come out of the woodwork over the past few years, at least from my point of view.  Such is usually the case for a few Best Picture winners like Gladiator, and the most common criticism I’ve been hearing is that the story is nothing more than a basic revenge quest and offers no real depth.  Well, to that I say yes and no.  Yes, it is a traditional revenge story, but I find the story and all the themes it touches upon to be handled in a very riveting fashion and as a result, the film is utterly engrossing right from its opening moments.  Everything this movie is saying may not be anything particularly new, strictly speaking, but it’s the way the film says it all that makes it so good.  Every scene nearly oozes conviction, whether it be the performances by the actors, the impeccable production design or the brutally invigorating violence.  In every sense of the word, Gladiator is a true-and-blue Hollywood epic, and I consider it to be one of the best in the genre.

If you were to go by the strength of the acting alone, this is still a worthwhile film.  Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Oliver Reed, Connie Nielsen – all of them do something quite remarkable: they give theater-level performances in a medium where such acting can sometimes be undercut by all the technical details.  Indeed, whenever you watch a scene in this film, it almost feels like it’s playing out on a stage, unfiltered by a camera lens.  There have been movies possessing this quality in the past where this affects the overall quality of the film, but here it works in spades.  Maybe it’s because such a story and such a setting requires this level of dramatization, but the bottom line is it works.

Russell Crowe is phenomenally good as Maximus, exuding qualities that make him a flesh-and-blood human being, rather than an overdone or underdeveloped caricature.  He doesn’t shy away from any rawness required for the character, instead embracing it, and through so doing he creates a hero whose motivation and desires are rooted firmly at the center of everything, gaining our sympathy with natural ease.  Joaquin Phoenix, at the same time, embodies a boyish thirst for affection turned into a nefarious hunger for power and loyalty.  The interactions between Commodus and Lucilla really show the depth of his twisted nature and the way he can be menacing by just acting sympathetic.  And then there’s his willingness to commit a rather unspeakable act just for the sake of continuing on his legacy that piles onto his creepiness.  And on that note, Connie Nielsen gives solid work as a mother motivated by a desire to protect the welfare of her son and her government.  Oliver Reed and Richard Harris provide weight to the film in their supporting roles, too.

The screenplay by David Franzoni, John Logan and William Nicholson doesn’t stop at character development, though.  It also gives a vivid sense of all the political maneuverings that would be involved in Rome’s government in a story like this, and this subplot is just as interesting as the main one.

On a technical level as well, Gladiator is fantastic.  Ridley Scott has always proven to be an interesting visual director, and this movie is no exception.  The use of bleak and drained-out colors complement the tone of the story, and the way Scott envisions Rome is great.  Of course, gladiator battles of the time were always vicious and blood-drenched, and Scott films those sequences with real grittiness that puts us in the middle of everything and pumps us up with excitement at the same time.  My favorite sequence is Maximus’s first battle in the Colosseum, where he proves his worth to the crowds of Rome.  And me being as big a Hans Zimmer fan as I am, I can’t write this review without saying how great the score is.  Listen closely to the score and you can hear the makings of the theme for Pirates of the Caribbean.

There’s hardly anything I can’t praise about Gladiator.  It’s an exciting and involving epic that showcases the talents of everyone in front of and behind the camera, and celebrates a specific genre of film while also being a highlight of it.

****/****

Comments
  1. pgcooper1939 says:

    Haven’t seen this film in ages, but I’m still a big fan. Great review.

  2. ckckred says:

    Love this film. Nice review.

  3. CMrok93 says:

    It’s an amazing epic that kept me going the whole time it was on-screen. Thankfully, Crowe, Phoenix, and Nielsen, also do great jobs with their scripts because even though some of this could have come off terribly hokey, they make it all work. Good review.

  4. Tracy Loughmiller says:

    Wonderful movie

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