Ridley Scott is one of those directors that makes good quality films but yet
has no stamp of his own. Watching 'Alien', 'Blade Runner', 'Black Rain',
'Thelma and Louise' and 'G.I. Jane' would give you no hint that it's the
same guy. Even though most directors have that look or feel that ignite
their names in the minds of audiences through camera angles or injections of
sub plot, I have never felt that way about Scott but I do admire his films
greatly. 'Gladiator' is a broad, sweeping epic film that pays tribute to
Shakespeare in its tone, 'Ben-Hur' in its combat scenes and 'Spartacus' in
its heroics. What makes the film work is that these influences are not
obvious. The film is skillfully presented in such a way as to give the
viewer a fresh perspective of the Hollywood epic without ripping off those
that came before it.
One thing that has to be mentioned right off the bat is the performance of
Russell Crowe. This guy is one of the next generation, an actor of
downright diversity and intensity who thrives at not being stereotyped.
From an unorthodox cop in early 1950's Los Angeles in 1997's 'L.A.
Confidential' to a whistle blowing, conscience stricken tobacco executive in
'The Insider' to a vengeful Roman army soldier, Crowe, along with the likes
of Kevin Spacey, Edward Norton and Tom Hanks, will takes over for Pacino,
Hackman, Hoffman, De Niro and Nicholson when they retire from films.
In 'Gladiator' Crowe plays General Maximus, a loyal and seemingly
unstoppable combat soldier in the Roman empire's army some 2000 years ago
who builds a family like relationship with the Caesar of the times named
Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris). The bond between these two men is similar
to the bond between a father and son but evil would soon lurk its ugly head
between the passage of this great bond. After winning a major battle,
Marcus Aurelius secretly tells Maximus that he will name him as successor to
the throne of Rome and this does not go over with Marcus Aurelius' son
Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Before news of the succession can get out,
Commodus murders his father and banishes General Maximus to slavery and
kills his entire family. Like 'Ben-Hur', Maximus thrives on his banishment
and has one goal: survival.....so he can have his vengeance later. Connie
Nielsen plays Commodus' sister who was once Maximus' flame and is sort of
caught in a catch-22 in all of the treachery that plays out and Derek Jacobi
is casted well as a Roman senator.
In the slave world Maximus is purchased by Proximo (Oliver Reed) and this
man makes his living training gladiators and finds a hot property with
Maximus who is victorious at every turn and even defeats well established
legends in the minds of the spectators and quickly becomes a new hero to
them. There are greats scenes of sword play, brutal hand to hand combat and
confrontations with such fierce creatures as tigers. The cinematography by
John Mathieson is breath taking and his work is an early contender for an
One thing I didn't like about this film is the fact that Ridley Scott, in
filming his action sequences, plays with too many close up shots where the
action scurries around in a whirlwind of dust, smoke and fast moves so much
so that we cannot focus entirely on the action at hand and the editing
process throughout all of this is somewhat rushed and comes off as aloof at
One thing that makes 'Gladiator' work well on many levels is the advent of
computer technology. There are many crowd scenes and architectural
landscapes that were obviously generated by computers because if the cost of
so many extras were put forward along with the cost of building and erecting
many Roman like city structures for the given era, the film would have cost
about the same as it did to make 'Titanic'.....a cool 200 million dollars.
Compared with that film, 'Gladiator' came in at a much lower 103 million
dollars because things were not built to scale the way they were in
'Titanic' where James Cameron had a relic of the famous boat built 90% to
scale. I remember someone from the cast of 'Ben-Hur' saying that if a film
like 'Ben-Hur' were made in this day and age it would probably cost 200 or
even 300 million dollars to produce. 'Gladiator' has now been made in a
time where computer effects look authentic and not cheesy and combined with
many other scenes, I defy anyone to tell the difference between the fake
stuff and the reality in every single detail of the film's labour.
Through the eyes of death, the struggle between good and evil and the
resolution of the film's climax, 'Gladiator' pays tribute to the most high
end of Shakespearean art and will leave the audience finding a whole new
perspective on a genre of film some thought might be buried indefinitely.
Thank goodness it's not.
Copyright © 2000 Walter Frith