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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 Mark Fleming
4 stars out of 4

It was a huge gamble how millennium audiences would react to a costume epic centred on the Coliseum. Carry on Cleo trouncing Burton and Taylor's Cleopatra at the box office in 1964 seemed to have been the ignominious epitaph for a genre that had become a colossal bore. Ridley Scott, however, has unleashed a monumental spectacle. His tale of the downfall and rise of Maximus the Gladiator is a classic example of what can be achieved when a director's ambitious vision is brought to fruition. The film succeeds on virtually every score. Scott is a director long accused of promoting style over substance. But here he also scrutinizes the darkness beneath supreme power. As for style, the CGI recreation of the gladiatorial arenas and Ancient Roman architecture eclipse anything MGM ever took months to construct, ensuring we become drawn into the display just as surely as if we were seated amongst the baying simulated extras. At its core, Gladiator is a simple tale about the relentless struggle of a free man to confront the regime that betrayed him into slavery and vanquished his loved ones.

Russell Crowe's Maximus commands every screen moment, his tender blue eyes a sublime contrast to his latent menace and animal magnetism. Although he is introduced as a ruthless general, he exposes the inner conflicts and flaws that drive the man; especially when he falls from grace to become a killer in the arena. This is a potent and measured performance that carries the film. Joaquin Phoenix gives a magnetic portrayal of the Emperor. Revered as a God by the proletariat, he is full aware that the only larger than life aspect of his character is his weaknesses and vices. Phoenix's sensitive wallowing depict the corruption at the heart of the Roman Empire's majesty. Oliver Reed gives a restrained performance as a sly, knowing slave dealer. These fleeting but adept on-screen moments are a fitting tribute to the actor.

It would have been tempting to dazzle audiences with sun-bathed architecture and pulsating chariot races alone. This, however, would have sacrificed narrative drive for the sake of a few flashing chariot races. Essentially, this is the story of one man's battle against the odds.

This is an exhilarating cinematic experience. The splendour and decadence of Ancient Rome fill the screen in all their aesthetic beauty, pomp and bloodletting gratification. You can almost taste the sand during Maximus' introduction to the gladiator world in North Africa, and by the time he arrives in the Roman Coliseum, you are greeted with visions that are jaw-dropping.

The opening segment of the film, featuring the Roman Armies of the North lining up to do battle with barbarian hordes amongst the snow-lashed Germanic forests, are truly awesome. As fiery projectiles rain down on the Teutons and the armoured legionnaires lock horns with the baying savages, you are plunged into a relentlessly homicidal melee that makes Spartacus seem like handbags at dawn. Chained tigers and chariot assaults to a backdrop of a thousand bellowing spectators leave you on the verge of leaping from your seat with the thumb message of your choice.

A tour-de-force achievement. Gladiator stands out from the mainstream releases of 2000 because it has opted for a subject which no-one else had dared touch with a barge-pole, then delivered the goods with the impact of a catapult missile.

Copyright 2001 Mark Fleming

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