GLADIATOR (2000) **** movie review by COOP

Posted on May 14th, 2008
Posted on May 14th, 2008

There hasn’t been a good Roman Empire/gladiator movie in awhile and Hollywood does take advantage of a good opportunity when it sees it. “Gladiator” is a prime example of good marketing and timing, making it the first entertaining epic of the 21st century.

“Gladiator” seems much like a remake of the 1964 film, “The Fall of the Roman Empire”. Both deal with most of the same characters and subject material, focusing on the days when the Roman Empire ruled a third of the world’s population. Both are good films and are only comparable due to their subject matter. However, I believe “Gladiator” is a worthy, almost superior successor.

The film starts in the late 2nd century where the fictional general Maximus (Russell Crowe) leads the Roman assault on the barbarians of Germania. After the triumphant victory, the dying Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) declares in confidence that he intends for Maximus to succeed him as Emperor. The Emperor’s son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) does not take this news well. He kills Marcus Aurelius, usurps the throne and orders the death of Maximus and his family. Maximus escapes death, but does not arrive in time to save his family in Spain. After collapsing in grief, Middle Eastern bandits find him and enslave him in a gladiator camp, run by an aging ex-gladiator, Proximo (Oliver Reed). Maximus soon becomes the most deadly gladiator in the Empire and proceeds to use his fame to get revenge upon the evil Caesar.

Russell Crowe once again, shows his charisma and prowess in a role that is sure to make him a household name and the most sought-after leading man in Hollywood. Joaquin Phoenix plays a great villain, but I feel he was miscast in this role… one that should have been played by a more formidable and mature actor. Connie Nielsen as Commodus’ sister Lucilla, finally gets a decent role after her part in the terrible “Mission to Mars”. Although she is a stunning, talented actress, she never fully develops her character. The rest of the international cast includes many fine actors, and very good performances. If only they had been given more material to work with they could have surpassed their “cameo” appearances and given their characters more distinct voices.

Director Ridley Scott has created a worthy epic here to add to his long list of groundbreaking films. Scott’s exceptional visual style has been proven in films such as “Alien”, “Blade Runner”, “Legend” and “Thelma and Louise”. He even managed to make “G.I. Jane” visually beautiful, if not a good movie. He has recently signed on to direct “Hannibal”, the highly anticipated sequel to “Silence of the Lambs”, proving that his unique style and good track record has made him one of the most respectable and sought-after directors in the business.

This film turned out to be an engaging epic. With a respected cast, fierce action sequences and time-tested story, this is a sure hit. It has elements that will entertain the mass as well as impress most of the cynical critics. The battle scenes and the gladiator fights are tense and exciting. The production also boasts some beautiful computer-generated shots of ancient Rome and the Colosseum. The cast does a good job with the roles they are given… Although, most of the problems I had was that the film involved historical accuracy. For example, crossbows weren’t invented until approximately 700 years later during the Middle Ages, yet the film shows several very advanced versions of the weapon. Also, the real Lucilla was exiled and killed by Commodus long before his own death, yet she surpasses his fate in this film. These may seem like nitpicky things considering it’s just a movie, but it still cheapens the effect when such oversights are made. However, this film was never intended to be accurate, thoughtful or deep. It did exactly what it intended to do… It was very entertaining.

Although, I highly recommend “Gladiator” for the mass audience, it is extremely gory. This seems to be the only reason for its R-rating. Otherwise this would have been a PG-13 film suitable for at pre-teens but not for youngsters. It’s a great date movie that both male and female alike would enjoy it, but be prepared… It lasts a lengthy 150 minutes.

Scale of 1-5:

Most refreshing aspect of the movie:
Some of the shots were absolutely breathtaking. The colors, production design, costumes, fight choreography, even the music was excellent. This film has also justified why Russell Crowe is one of my favorite actors and why he was nominated for “Best Actor” for “The Insider” last year. When he’s on the screen, you can’t take your eyes off of him.

Biggest gripe:
The portrayal of Emperor Commodus. In the film he was presented as a weakling and a pitiful coward. In reality, Commodus was one of the most interesting and physically powerful Roman Emperors. He was so skilled in battle that he fought as a gladiator himself, even after he became Caesar. Gladiators were always considered a slave class, but Commodus made over 100 appearances in the Colosseum and remained undefeated until conspirators employed a gladiator to assassinate him in 192 A.D. The filmmakers dropped the ball due to the fact that the truth was much more interesting than the fiction they made up.

Biggest surprise:
Oliver Reed in his final performance. Reed steals the show as the gladiator-turned-trainer, Proximo. His on-screen appearances are brief but highly distinguished and turns out to be the most captivating performance of the film. Reed died of a heart attack in May of 1999, right in the middle of “Gladiator’s” production. Some of the film had to be re-shot and altered due to his demise, but the footage of him that remained is electric. I expect Reed to get some recognition, possibly even an Academy nomination for “Best Supporting Actor”, for this role.

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