47 – Gladiator

Ridley Scott attempted to do to sword-and-sandal pictures with this movie what James Cameron did for highfalutin disaster pics with Titanic. In other words, a bombastic, explicit, harrowing, no-holds-barred epic. And succeed the action auteur has.

Russell Crowe plays Maximus, a loyal general in the Roman army. The Romans have conquered most of the civilized world, and there is only one outpost remaining. The stolid Maximus and his troops overtake the enemy, earning the grace of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris). The dying Emperor calls his general to his bedside and tells him that when he’s shuffled off this mortal coil, he wants Maximus to be the “defender of Rome” and the leadership of the empire to go not to his son but back to the long-abandoned Roman Senate. It’s quite a radical plan for the Emperor to have, and Maximus, against his own wishes, consents.

When the aged Aurelius dies, however, the plan changes. The Emperor’s snotty, belligerent son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) assumes command (which is easy, since he’s the son and no one else knew of the Emperor’s plans) and orders the execution of Maximus. The stunned general is led off, but naturally defeats his captors. He becomes a slave and is eventually sold to Proximus (Oliver Reed, in his final movie) and is forced to fight as a gladiator in arenas for the amusement of the aristocrats (severe shades of Spartacus!). And, of course, he must somehow win his freedom, get the girl (who happens to be Commodus’ sister), and avenge the murders of his wife and son, which happened when he was to be executed.

Crowe grips his sword with an unyielding passion, gladly taking up the
mantle passed to him by such golden-boy icons as Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford. He’s been touted as the Next Big Thing for a while now, but he seems like he’ll be sticking around. Check him out in L.A. Confidential – or if you’re in the mood for mediocre fluff, try Virtuosity with Denzel Washington. But Gladiator is the absolute pinnacle of Crowe’s relatively brief career. The Aussie magnificently holds his own as an action star and still finds time to emote properly. (Ah, I’m such a sucker for a good emote!) Those of you who want to see him shirtless, you’re in luck – however, in some of the scenes he’s buried in some seriously huge and obtrusive armor.

Crowe’s Maximus is completely loyal to the empire, and it blows his mind that he could go from being so highly respected in the land to being a slave. But this is not a morality tale of how a well-off man must suffer so that he may know the less-fortunate; in fact, there’s not much moralizing here (aside from the usual vengeance-shall-be-mine theme). Once he’s escaped his executioners, Maximus adopts an attitude of grim determination. He’s relentless in his goal – he MUST save Rome. This kind of character development we don’t get to see much in action movies, and while the movie is exceptionally well written for such a genre film, it’s really Crowe’s show. A lesser actor might have grunted and grimaced his way through much of the dialogue, but Crowe was more than up to the task. This was a blockbuster at the box office, and with great reason. This might even be one for the ages. My policy is to never overpraise a film as a “classic” (or, worse yet, “instant classic,” as if you only needed to add water), so I’ll restrain myself here. The best way to find out if a movie is a classic is to wait 20 years. This way you get a more subjective historical perspective on the film – who’s to say that in 20 years we’ll think of this film as a nostalgia piece of the early 2000’s?

Gladiator: 9

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2 Responses to “47 – Gladiator”

  1. KOW’s Blog » Der Gladiator Says:

    […] Der Film Gladiator – ich kannte ihn vorher nicht, hier ist eine Inhaltsangabe und eine Kritik, falls dir das genauso geht – hat mich ein bisschen ins Nachdenken gebracht. Maximus ist ein sehr tugendhafter und frommer Mann und mir sind einige Punkte aufgefallen, in denen wir als Christen von diesem Heiden (er verehrt seine Vorfahren) lernen können. […]

  2. Frothy Ruminations » Blog Archive » 344 - 300 Says:

    […] gives a truly commanding performance – perhaps on par with Russell Crowe’s turn as Maximus in Gladiator or Mel Gibson’s in Braveheart, a true, fearless leader who is well prepared to die to save […]

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