Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by David Franzoni, John Logan, and William Nicholson
Cast: Russell Crowe, Richard Harris, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, and Oliver Reed
Length: 2 hours and 35 minutes
Genre: Action, adventure, drama
MPAA Rating: R
Description from IMDB:
“When a Roman General is betrayed, and his family murdered by an emperor’s corrupt son, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge.”
While on campaign in Germania, Maximus (Russell Crowe), a Roman General, is visited by the emperor, Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris). Maximus is presented with the opportunity to become protector of Rome after the emperor’s death, but wants only to return home to his wife, son, and farm. He struggles with this decision and his duty to Rome as Marcus’s son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) and daughter Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) arrive. When Commodus learns that he is not to be made emperor, he kills his father and sentences Maximus to death after the latter suspects the emperor died of foul play. He escapes capture, sustaining injury, only to return home and find his family killed. As he lies in a fit of fever, he is picked up by slavers and sold to Proximo (Oliver Reed), a former gladiator who now profits as an owner. Maximus finds success in the ring and his need for vengeance is fulfilled when he is able to fight in the Colosseum in front of the very man who brought him low.
Maximus is a charismatic, well-liked leader of men. He finds himself in this position naturally due to his willingness to fight alongside his men. He comes from a humble home and serves the emperor through both duty and a close, paternal relationship. Maximus does not initially fight when at Proximo’s facility, and only does so when it is pressed upon him. Even then, he kills quickly because he must and takes no pleasure in it. He is able to turn the tide in the Colosseum when, during a scripted fight where his side is supposed to be massacred, he rallies the other gladiators and they come out on top. His opposite is Commodus, the conniving, malevolent, and utterly creepy son of Marcus Aurelius; much of this is a testament to Phoenix’s performance. Commodus feels he must be loved; by the people of Rome, by his sister, and most importantly his father, so he is completely jealous of Maximus and takes the first opportunity to be rid of his rival. Though this political intrigue is present in the film, there are also battles, as should be expected from the movie’s title.
Gladiator (2000) begins with a pitched battle accompanied by an epic score. The Roman Legion marches implacably toward their adversary, with flaming arrows soaring overhead and cries of battle lust rising to meet them. The fights are brutal and bloody in this film, both the pitched battle at the beginning and the ensuing gladiatorial bouts. Blood and viscera coat warriors and walls as men fight for their very lives and the bleak hope of freedom. This isn’t a story about a gladiator, so much as it is a gladiator story. The very essence and meaning of the plot comes from Maximus’s time in the ring and his search for vengeance. In order to get back at those who wronged him, he must win the crowd. He is able to do this through his considerable fighting skills and his ability to rally those around him.
Gladiator (2000) is another film, much like A Knight’s Tale (2001), that piqued my interest in the histories of Rome, Greece, and elsewhere in Europe. Though I initially only saw the version edited for television, the grandeur and glory in the films representation of the Roman Empire really stuck with me. I clearly wasn’t alone, as the film has been attributed with starting a revival in interest around Rome and drama within. It is another fantastic entry in Ridley Scott’s body of work, and helped to elevate him into the upper pantheon of 20th Century Hollywood directors. So sit back, and enjoy the spectacle of men fighting to survive and make their name reverberate through history; what we do in this life echoes in eternity.
Verdict: 4 poetic lines of dialogue out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of the Roman Empire, those who enjoy historical fiction, fans of epic battle scenes, those unafraid of gore, fans of patricide, people who want to hear a very similar musical theme to that of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), and fans of Russell Crowe in his prime.
Not recommended for: Those who dislike gore, enemies of the Roman Empire, the easily creeped-out, those who dislike patricide, animal rights activists, or people that Russell Crowe got angry at in real life.