A movie set during the time when Rome was all powerful, even more so than God himself, seemed ambitious back when Charlton Heston graced the robes for Ben-Hur. Back in those days, epics were made constantly. Today, movie budgets are usually more epic than the films. Gladiator has all of the ingredients for an epic tale, the old way: the rise and fall of a man who loses all and attempts to win it back in the face of the immovable force of the Roman Empire.
The opening sequence starts out fabulously. The sheer size of the battle is amazing. The fight itself was rather quick, and hard to follow as the camera swept around at a torrential pace. Russell Crowe plays the great General Maximus. After what he thinks is his last battle, he’s in for a surprise that causes him to choose between his family and his love for Rome.
After all hell breaks loose (I’ll let you find out what it is since I don’t want to give too much away), Maximus is bought and sold as a slave-turned-gladiator for the profit of his master. He must fight in what isn’t exactly your everyday sporting event. As a gladiator, if you win, you live at least one day longer. Losers are dragged out and thrown to the desert vultures. The fight scenes between gladiators are wonderful. Crowe shows intensity and deftness that I thought was beyond him. His battle-weary face and calm in the presence of death is chilling.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Commodus, the son of the fallen Caesar and mortal enemy of Maximus. Phoenix plays the part of the whiny and weak yet evil Commodus to perfection. You have nothing but hatred for his character. You find yourself cheering his failures and booing his victories.
The film itself was exquisitely directed by Ridley Scott, from the scenes of battle to the desert gladiator ring, all the way to the pillars of Rome. Everything feels authentic, bringing you in and never letting you go. The costumes are fantastic. The one problem I had was with the usage of words and phrases from an era over a hundred years before the birth of Christ.
The final act doesn’t let you down. It’s perfect because it’s what you expect, but don’t really expect to happen. You finally get what you want to see instead of something ruining it along the way. For a film that lasts well over two hours, you never find a chance to get restless or distracted. I only hope that Gladiator is the beginning of more epic movies to come.
+ charlie craine