Ridley Scott's ("Blade Runner", "Alien") "Gladiator" is the kind of movie
that hasn't been seen in a very long time: A massive, sprawling epic of a
picture which is a shock to the senses. This is the kind of movie that
Hollywood hasn't made in past years due to the enormous budget required to
recreate ancient Rome. Now, thanks to computers and the miracle called CGI,
Hollywood can show us Rome in all its glory. Speaking of glory, what a
glorious movie "Gladiator" is. Not only does Scott's Rome look fantastic,
but so do the costumes, the gorgeous cinematography, and the amazing battle
scenes. "Gladiator" is the sort of movie that will leave you staring
slack-jawed at the majestic proceedings unfolding before you. This is the
sort of film which isn't merely watched, it is experienced.
Maximus (Russell Crowe) is a brilliant and respected Roman general, fighting
the barbarian hordes of Germania. After defeating the barbarians, Maximus
has only one dream to follow: to return to his wife and son back in Rome.
However, Caesar Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) is dying, and he refuses to
let his amoral son, Commodus (Joquin Phoenix), succeed him as emperor. He
wants Maximus to take the throne until the time is right to hand the kingdom
over to the senate. Commodus, infuriated by his father's decision,
assassinates him and then sends Maximus off to be executed. Maximus escapes
his executioners, only to find that Commodus has slain his family and
destroyed his home. After wandering blindly for awhile, he is picked up by a
slave caravan and sold to Proximo (the late Oliver Reed), a man who buys
slaves and trains them to become gladiators. Now Maximus has returned to
Rome to compete in the arena and find a way to get his revenge.
While the previews might lead you to believe that "Gladiator" is nothing
more than a whole lot of arena fighting and one or two large battles, they
are a tad misleading. There are, in fact, only four major arena fights and
one large battle scene at the film's beginning. The rest of the film is
filled with political intrigue and watching Commodus slime his way through
his emperorship. This doesn't mean the film is boring, far from it in fact.
Two and a half hours have seldom felt so short as they did in this movie.
While the political goings on may be interesting, the vast majority of
audiences are seeing "Gladiator" for the fights, and they are certainly
worthwhile. The battles which take place in the Roman Coliseum are fast
paced and exciting; particularly one involving a one on one fight between
Maximus and an undefeated gladiator. The two go at it, with swords and axes
flying, while tigers circle, waiting for one of them to get too close.
Acting obviously isn't supposed to be a high point in a movie like this, but
when Russell Crowe ("LA Confidential", "The Insider") is involved you can
expect at least one great performance. The real surprise was that nearly the
entire cast turned in great performances. Joquin Phoenix ("8MM") is suitably
slimy and evil as the ambitious emperor, despite my fears that I would be
able to see him as nothing more than River Phoenix's little brother. Connie
Nielsen ("Mission to Mars") gives a nice, almost understated turn as
Commodus' sister and love interest (remember, ancient Rome and incest tend
to go hand in hand). Oliver Reed ("The Big Sleep") gives a great final
performance as the greedy Proximo. I found it interesting how Reed's
character was recreated through CGI after his death. Watch for Djimon
Hounsou ("Amistad") and Duane Johnson (professional wrestling's The Rock) as
There are two more things I must point out as being simply great about
"Gladiator". First is the score, which I can only hope Academy members will
remember at the end of the year. Composer Hans Zimmer ("The Thin Red Line")
has created a truly magnificent and moving body of music here (I went out
and bought the soundtrack the next day). The music played during the battles
is fierce and rousing, causing your heart to pound just as much as the
action does. The other great moment in the movie is the opening battle
scene, which simply must be witnessed on the big screen. During this battle,
we see wide panning shots of massive Roman legions marching towards
barbarian hordes; flaming arrows flying overhead; a burning forest in the
background; and some wonderfully choreographed fight scenes. I'd recommend
everyone see "Gladiator" on the big screen rather than waiting for video.
I'm certain it's going to lose a lot of its power on the small screen. The
film runs 154 minutes, but believe me, it won't feel nearly that long. I
give "Gladiator" a well earned four and a half out of five stars.
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For past reviews, movie news, and other fun stuff, visit:
* * * * * - One of the best movies of the year, see it now.
* * * * - Great flick, try and catch this one.
* * * - Okay movie, hits and misses.
* * - Pretty bad, see it only if you have nothing better to do.
* - One of the worst movies ever made. See it only if you enjoy pain.
Copyright © 2000 John Beachem