MAY 2000 | VOL. 4, NO. 5

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Gladiator

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Send Us Feedback: Ridley Scott's perfect balance of horrific violence and Machiavellian intrigue

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Gladiator - Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix

 
GLADIATOR
Rating: A-

Starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Derek Jacobi, Richard Harris, Djimon Hounsou. Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by David Franzoni, John Logan, William Nicholson. Score by Hans Zimmer, Lisa Gerrard.

Rated R. Running time: 132m.


RELATED FILMS
Also Directed by Ridley Scott:

Alien (1979)
Winner: 1980 Oscar for Best Effects, Visual Effects. Nominated: 1980 Oscar for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration.
Buy It today


Blade Runner (1982)
Nominated: 1983 Oscar for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Effects, Visual Effects.
Buy It today

TIM CLIFTON

Gladiator is, perhaps, a first: an epic film that is expertly augmented by computer generated effects. Although ponderous at times, Gladiator is a fully fleshed out story that balances horrific violence with Machiavellian intrigue.

Maximus (Russell Crowe) is a popular Roman general who is victorious in his final battle (a brutal conflict that will make you wince in empathy) that presumably ensures peace in the Roman Empire. He turns down an offer to succeed the emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) but then finds himself at odds with Aurelius' spoiled son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), who murders Aurelius and orders Maximus' death.

Maximus escapes while Commodus, the new emperor, reinstates bread and circuses in Rome to amuse the masses, vulgar gladiator games to maintain his control and popularity. In addition, he decides to produce an heir within the family by trying to sleep with his reluctant sister Lucilla (Connie Nielson). Maximus is captured and coerced into rural gladiator games (the equivalent of the minor leagues, I suppose) to earn his freedom. Maximus realizes that this presents him with an opportunity to exact his revenge.

This is Ridley Scott's most effective and vibrant film since Thelma and Louise and harkens back to his early career when he helmed such trend setting (and much imitated) films as Alien and Blade Runner. There is beauty in the location shots and in a recreated Rome that is awesome at its zenith. Even the Roman equivalent of going toward the light, the opening of a door to the Elysian fields, is both hallucinogenic and beautiful. An excellent score by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard is haunting and rousing.

The story is predicable in the sense that it is a classically styled story with murder and intrigue. What makes this film work is the strong acting by Crowe, Phoenix, Nielson, and a supporting cast of seasoned British actors including Richard Harris, Derek Jacobi, and Oliver Reed (who died during filming). Phoenix is particularly effective as a troubled churlish leader who at one moment appears to apprehend his sanity and the next just can't stop himself from lashing out at those who disrespect him. Commodus is as much internally tormented as he is a villain.

Sure, you can make the argument that this is, at its core, a story rife with hypocrisy. The brutish warrior becomes the savior for peace and democracy. Such criticism would be justified if the film wallowed in gratuitous violence, but it doesn't. It is so effectively executed from beginning to end that it brings a stale story to life. This film combines the traditional gladiator story with Shakespearean overtones.



TIM CLIFTON is Renaissance Online Magazine's staff movie reviewer.

PICTURES Copyright © 2000 Dreamworks LLC and Universal Pictures



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