Friday, June 29, 2012


Truly Great films

Russell Crowe kicks ass and takes names...

Why am I reviewing Gladiator, a film released in 2000? 

Three reasons. 1) It is a fantastic film that takes on difficult subject matter. 2) Ridley Scott directed it, and I really admire him....and 3) Oliver Reed, an incredible character actor, died during filming. And he should be remembered.

Roger Ebert commented on Russell Crowe's performance: "Depression is not a substitute for personality...."

I, however, disagree....

Russell Crowe, in the Ridley Scott helmed Gladiator, plays Maximus Meridius - a battle-worn general that just wants to back to his home. He has a wife, and a little boy living on a farm that he hasn't seen in two years. 

But there's a problem. 

Marcus Aurelius, the emperor, wants Maximus to do him one last solid before retiring.

Rule Rome, so Marcus's evil son Commodus can't.

First, I would like to touch on the loss of two film titans - literal kings in the field of acting. 

Richard Harris plays Marcus the emperor in Gladiator, then played Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films before dying of Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2002.

Oliver Reed, another star with a long film career, died during the filming of Gladiator and had to have certain scenes filled in digitally. He played Proximo, the slave owner that befriends Maximus.

There are many fine performances in Gladiator, and of course, Russell Crowe is at the top of that list. 

There are many long scenes with no action, and not even a lot of dialogue, but Crowe makes them interesting. There are no bits in this movie that make you sigh and wish for a fast-forward button, mainly due to Crowe. 

Indeed, Gladiator only has one flawed scene, in my opinion, and Crowe isn't in it.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Commodus, the vile son of the Emperor, and does an excellent job. Some of you may be saying, 'excellent job? Phoenix stole that movie!'

Well, yes and no.

Phoenix does make a great bad guy, but his performance was a little over the top. Just a tad. I am a firm believer that the more subtle, the better. His hairlip does add to the part of a delusional and cowardly man, though.

Connie Nelson, I think, was a superb casting choice as Lucilla - sister to Commodus. She's secretly in love with Marcus, and scared for her little boy's life.

My only complaint - not about her acting, mind you - was how her part was written. You only start to sympathize with her toward the end of the film. In the early scenes she comes off as a bitchy slut.

Nelson is not a big name in acting, but holds her own very well.

There are a couple of other actors that really add to the flavor of this film. Djimon Hounsou and Ralf Moller play fellow slaves of Maximus, and both are exceptional.

Gladiator is also one of the rare films to start filming without an acceptable shooting script - and succeed.

Reportedly, Crowe wanted Maximus to be a more sensitive character - and less a killer for hire.

They say Crowe was a dick about it, but I think it was a good decision. Maximus and his afterlife threads were added as a result.

The digital work in Gladiator is fantastic. I re-watched it a week ago and it still looks fresh, and you can barely tell that Rome - including most of the coliseum - is blue-screen.

The fight scenes are well choreographed, and the action is spaced out with intrigue.

This is important to me. A lot of new films are so interested in one-upping each other that the action is balls-to-the-wall and nonstop. 

This can be exhausting. 

I think a good movie should slow down so you can get to know the characters...and Gladiator does this with aplomb.

A lot of new films, I think, only give us paper-thin main characters because of this need for ever-increasing action. They could take a lesson from this flick.

And that one flaw I spoke of? 

It's an odd scene in which Commodus has traitors executed by archers. It seems out of place, because when the scene opens, your reaction is WTF? Perhaps it was just a bad editing judgement, since it hurts the flow of the film.

Gladiator earned over 450 million and was a critical success. 

This is a fine, entertaining film that can hold it's own against anything on the theater screens right now. And that's what you get with Ridley Scott. 

Wonderful movies that still look fresh years later.

What did you think 
of Gladiator?

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