Written: May 15, 2000
Can a spectacular Cecil B DeMille style epic bring greatness and adrenaline to the launching of the new millennium summer box office bonanza?
Russell Crowe stars as a stoic Roman General named Maximus who has been promised the throne of the Empire which angers the current Caesar’s son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). When Caesar Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) passes on, a plot erupts to quickly deal with the “would be general-king” and let Commodus ascend to the throne.
The plot dictates that Maximus will be beheaded before any word of his ascension can occur. Barely escaping his execution, Maximus tries to make it home before Rome can unleash its wrath upon his household. Just by mere seconds, Maximus is unable to save his family.
Exhausted and wounded, Maximus is thrown into slavery and goes on dreaming of what could have been. A small glimmer of hope seems to electrify him when he is faced with becoming a gladiator. By using his skills as a general, Maximus quickly becomes the toast of the arena. Maximus swears vengeance and brings his fame to the grandest arena in the land, the Coliseum. But as all historians know, “He who controls the Coliseum controls Rome.”
Director Ridley Scott was once called a directorial genius with huge range. Directing blockbusters ranging from “Thelma and Louise” to “Alien”.
Well with the birth of his Gladiator, he continues with his tradition of utter genius. The scope, magnitude and vision he has gathered together here make it a definite candidate for the best picture of the year. I know we are only in May but wait till you see it.
The other marvel in this film is the charisma of the film’s star. Hollywood has finally given Russell Crowe a movie that he greatly deserves. His performance is very deep, stoic and reminiscent of Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart” What I found more believable within Crowe was the fact that at one moment you could see his yearning to go home and the other blood-thirst as he cleaved his sword deep into his opponent’s belly.
Delivering that kind of scope in mere seconds amazed me. Sure Gibson delivered this kind of performance in “Braveheart” but for me he was always looks like a crazy man giving his all for freedom. With Crowe you see the tenderness and the precision of a general in that one or two seconds. That is what makes it so amazing.
The film’s villain is right out of a Shakespearean/Greek tragedy. Phoenix’s devilish grins and obsession with his sister is so delightfully evil that you yearn for Maximus to kill him. It’s not often in Hollywood fare that we yearn a hero to slay the villain. Heck, you, me and everyone will want to kill this guy.
Take these brilliant performances and amalgamate them with a modern scope seen only in films like “Spartacus” and “Ben-Hur” and you get about half of what this movie is trying to convey. For me the other half was the adrenaline.
You can feel yourself screaming for the blood just like a Roman. With some of my historical background I always thought the idea of people brutally fighting to the death day in and day out was barbaric and uncivilized. But that is the magic Scott has injected into Gladiator, you actually feel what those Romans felt as they screamed at the top of their lungs in the arena of champions.
(5 of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.