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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 AlexI
4 stars out of 4

Amidst the mighty city of Rome, stands the Coliseum, shining in the sunlight in all its splendor and magnificence. It is the greatest construction in human history and a proof of that Rome truly is the center of the earth. In it -- blood flows and heads roll amidst the laughing and applauds of the noble crowd. This is the symbol of the Roman Empire -- a symbol of the pride, mesmerizing beauty and inhuman power, but also of the savage brutality of the Roman ideology.

It has been four decades since chariots raced and swords flashed across movie screens in epic dramas of a time long past. Now, director Ridley Scott brings the glorious battles of the ancient Roman arena back to the big screen in a sweeping story of courage and revenge. The great Roman General Maximus (Russell Crowe) has once again led the legions to victory on the battlefield. The war won, Maximus dreams of home, wanting only to return to his wife and son; however, the dying Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) has one more duty for the general-to assume the mantle of his power. Jealous of Maximusí favor with the emperor, the heir to the throne, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), orders his execution and that of his family. Barely escaping death, Maximus is forced into slavery and trained as a gladiator in the arena where his fame grows. Now he has come to Rome, intent on avenging the murder of his wife and son by killing the new emperor Commodus. Maximus has learned that the one power stronger than that of the emperor is the will of the people, and he knows he can only attain his revenge by becoming the greatest hero in all the empire.

This is Ridley Scott's greatest and most successful achievement since 'Blade Runner' (1981). 'Gladiator' is what 'Titanic' was supposed to be: a combination of a dramatic emotional story, grand star cast and breathtaking visuals. A film with spectacular locations, wonderous cinematography, fast paced editing and heavenly music. But when 'Titanic' stopped at visual perfection, creating merely an illusion of a great epic, 'Gladiator' succeeds because of David Franzoini's complex script, multidimensional characters and impressive acting. Russel Crowe , recently Oscar nominated for his role in 'The Insider', is equally spectacular in his recent achievement as the vengeful Roman general. It is a role that demands more presence than acting, but Crowe has both. Scott , along side with screenwriter David Franzoini ('Amistad') have created very strong, mature and complex characters that are all spirits of their time. Maximus is the greatest general of Rome and a loyal servant of his good master Marcus Aurelius, fabulously played by Oscar nominee Richard Harris. Maximus was an idealist -- a noble warrior that believed in justice, perfect worlds, rightisnous kings and sacrifices for the greater good. But a tough life has shown him the dark side of his paradise. He is a simple man with simple needs. The endless wars, the constant death around him and his hands still warm from his enemies blood, don't bother him anymore. He has become numb. The only light in his life is the hope that someday he will see his wife and son again. When he looses his master, his family and his reputation, he cheats death and returns to Rome, with one single purpose -- avenge the death of his family. He soon finds himself a part of a conspiracy to murder the young Emperor, Commodus. Commodes is the most complex character in the story and has a striking resemblance to Amon Göth from Steven Spielberg's 'Schindler's List'. A man that is capable of unspeakable crimes, and jet never becoming a consistent villain in our eyes. He is a man with not so many great qualities, but with great desires and ambitions. As the film progresses, we get to know him as a person and dive deeper into his dark heart. He is filled with emotions that he can not express, reaching for love and respect he can not gain. Phoenix ('8MM') plays him fabulously as an amoral, insecure young man driven to near madness by total power and the inherent loneliness that attends it. The only support he thinks he has is from his sister, Lucile. Played by Connie Nielsen ('The Devil's Advocate' ), she is a wise, mysterious beauty. She remains at her brother's side until she realizes the incredible danger, but then it is too late. In the latter part of the film, we see her cruelly abused and mistreated by Commodes, with her past intelligence and freshness lost forever. Proximo is an old gladiator that gained his freedom with the blood of his opponents and the will of the crowd. He is a lion. His eyes have not lost the fearsome power and his voice has not lost its strength. In Maximus he sees himself at a younger age, and this encounter awakens memories of his glorious past. Energetically played by Oliver Reed in the last role of his life, where he shows why he was elected one of the best actors alive. Proximo teaches Maximus the tricks of the trade and makes it possible for him to go to Rome and dream of revenge against the new emperor. All these lives and many more are crossed together, woven into a magnificent web of events. There is a great and touching friendship between Maximus and Juba, a good-hearted man that has suffered the same fate as Maximus himself, is emotionally portrayed by 'Amistad's Djimon Honsou . This friendship remains the only pure and good in a world of blood and death. There is a very interesting and heartbreaking relationship between Commodus, his sister and her son; and a touching connection between Proximo and Maximus. The film is also filled with intellectually stimulating conspiracies and betrayals -- the darkness under the sparkling facade -- the Senate.

'Gladiator' is a perfect combination that will certainly appeal to the mass audience, and although it's not as primitive as 'Titanic', it will still rock the box office. But this is much more than a commercial success, it's an artistic and intellectual achievement. It has an extremely powerful emotional impact. Grotesque battles in all their glory (inspired by 'Saving Private Ryan' ), a great love lost and friendship gained. Hopes, dreams, fantasies, ideas and ideologies. Revenge in all its darkness, justice, sacrifice, betrayal and destiny in all its mystique. This film has it all. And it is presented in such beauty and elegance that it's impossible to refuse. Although Maximus existed only in ancient legends, this film has otherwise a very strong grounding in history. Both Marcus Aurelius - the philosopher, Lucile - the wise and the Roman senators depicted in this movie, really existed. As for Commodes it is said: "[He was] one of the few Roman emperors of whom nothing good can be said..". Off course characters such as Proximo are all fictions, but extremely effective.

Rome is recreated in all its splendor and power thanks to Benjamín Fernández's and John King's magical art direction and miraculous digital special effects. Here, even Romans would feel at home. Every detail is perfect, whether it is the 100's of statues that surround the Coliseum or a tree in the forests of Germania. The sets look even more real when you see the costumes these actors are in. They are supremely crafted with every detail taken care of. The lighting, the framing, the blue camera filters, in-depth high speed filming of a war with the Germanic Barbarians and a Gladiatorial reenactment of the war of Cartage. But what Ridley Scott has achieved is much more than visual splendor. He has somehow recreated a multidimensional picture of Rome, with its corruption and wickedness hidden under the shining mask of grandness. He has created an uneasy and disturbing atmosphere where everyone are against one another. Where everyone is talking about the welfare of Rome, while thinking only about personal gain and happiness. It's a place where friends smiling stab each other in the back -- the whole specter of Roman mentality. This is 'Spartacus' with all its intelligence, 'Braveheart' with all its pumping adrenaline, 'Saving Private Ryan' with all its openness and raw emotions, and 'Titanic with all its visual splendor. Whether it will win the Oscars is yet to be discovered, but one thing is certain, Ridley Scott has created a true and glorious epic.

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