Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Niall of Raging Fluff. He also reviewed North By Northwest HERE. Thanks so much for the reviews, Niall! 🙂 Now let’s see what he has to say about Gladiator, IMDB rank 63 out of 250…
There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE.
*Spoilers That Echo In Eternity
What’s it about? Maximus is a Roman general who’s rather good at decimating bands of Goths (the tribe, not the pale waifs who listen to depressing music). Frail old Emperor Marcus Aurelius loves him like a son, which pisses off his actual son, evil Commodus (inventor of the toilet?). Commodus kills Marcus, betrays Maximus, and for good measure kills his wife and child. Maximus escapes, wanders the earth for a bit (you know, like Kane in Kung Fu), then becomes a gladiator – a gladiator who’s very popular with the mob; his fans are Maximaniacs. He makes his way to Rome for the Superbowl World Series Cup Final Bloody Slaughter Championship and plots his revenge.
In a Tagline? It’s Spartacus meets Wrestlemania.
Number of Times Watched? IV or V (see what I did there?)
Verdict? Duos Pollices (Two Thumbs Up)
Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Richard Harris, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Djimon Hounsou, Derek Jacobi, David Hemmings.
For a film generally remembered as a rather shouty, violent, and gory sword and sandals revenge tale, it is worth noting that Ridley Scott’s Gladiator begins with a shot that wouldn’t be out of place in Little House on the Prairie: a hand moving across a field of wheat. The pastoral image – bathed in gold – will return at the film’s end when the hero is killed. Is it a memory of his beloved farm that he has not seen for many years or a premonition of his death? Is it, in fact, a vision of the Elysian Fields?
Gladiator was bestowed with all sorts of critical and commercial praise when it was released in 2000, and the film was a high watermark for most of those involved. It remains the biggest box-office success of Scott`s career; it marked the beginning of a working relationship between director Scott and actor Russell Crowe; it made Crowe a star and earned him an Oscar; it confirmed Joaquin Phoenix as a fierce talent; it introduced audiences to Djimon Hounsou; and it provided Oliver Reed with one of the best roles he ever had, and was his swansong.
I have no idea how accurate Gladiator is as history, but I`m not sure I care. I`ve watched it several times and let myself be caught up in its sweep and enjoyed it for what it is. It`s no Spartacus, but it`s a whole lot better than most films of this type, mainly due to the performances and the craft with which it`s put together. Scriptwise, it`s a bit daft: it`s a rather simple tale that perhaps takes itself a little too seriously, and has a protagonist seemingly incapable of smiling (usually a bad thing). In fact, the film really only has one good joke, and it`s a film-trivia inside one: Maximus has the figures of two horses on his breastplate, and he tells young Lucius they are called Scarto and Argentio: that`s Trigger and Silver.
The film chiefly concerns fathers and sons, and much of the dialogue is rather ripe but would earn an A+ at the Hollywood School of Greco-Roman Studies. Luckily, it has actors who know how to nibble at the scenery rather than devour it: take note, Gerard Butler.
As Maximus, the betrayed general turned gladiator, Crowe had to carry most of the film and got most of the attention. I found him less interesting here than in his previous films – watch Romper Stomper and Proof if you want to see him young and bursting with talent – in spite of the whole “Are you not entertained?” bit. He adopts the plummy voice he would use in other roles when he wishes to sound dignifed, and he falls back on his acting trick of staring into middle distance and frowning (it’s his go-to expression for sorrow, confusion, grief, and despair). Mind you, when he’s hacking off limbs and heads, he has a grand old time of it. He has become such a stodgy old fart these days, it’s worth seeing him here when he was young and in good shape and hungry.
Phoenix gives the standout performance of the film for me. His Commodus is psychotic, vain, petty, childish, and cruel. Another actor might have played it over the top, but he manages the difficult trick of being a soft-spoken, sexually confused tyrant, and finds the tragedy in the character. Watch how he plays the scene where he kills his father, Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), and you can see the self-loathing in his face (the scene is very reminiscent of Roy Batty killing Tyrell in Blade Runner).
And then there is Oliver Reed as Proximo, the former gladiator who buys and then mentors Maximus. Reed was twice -blessed as a young actor in the 1960s; he had a foot in the door by virtue of being the nephew of Carol Reed, and he had an earthy, brutal sexiness at a time when many of his peers were fey. He squandered his talent in booze and many shitty films, but he is magnificent here: he plays the part as an old athlete on the sidelines – a coach who still yearns for the thrill of going on to the pitch (“win the crowd, and you’ll win your freedom”) – and when Reed drops his voice to a whisper, it’s haunting.
The action scenes are very well done, even if the tiger special effects look a bit naff at this point. Hans Zimmer’s score owes a bit of a debt to Gustav Holst, but it’s still one of his best, helped largely by his choice of instruments and by the ethereal voice of Lisa Gerrard.
As with anything by Scott, the film looks incredible, with detail and lighting that other directors seem incapable of. Scott has been criticised often for his poor storytelling, and of being more interested in the surface aesthetics than in any depth of character, but here I think he did a great job of delivering a grand old-style sword and sandals epic.