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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Gladiator

Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix
Director: Ridley Scott
Rated: R
RunTime: 154 Minutes
Release Date: May 2000
Genres: Action, Drama

*Also starring: Djimon Hounsou, Derek Jacobi, Ralph Moeller, Connie Nielsen, Spencer Treat Clark, Richard Harris, Tomas Arana, Oliver Reed

Review by John Beachem
3½ stars out of 4

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 fellow gladiators.

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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* * * * * - 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

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