The Roman Empire is brilliantly alive again thanks to the imaginations of Hollywood’s magicians in this sumptuous feast called “Gladiator”.
I dare not say ‘the glory of Rome’ because in 180 A.D. when this is placed, Rome was little more than a butchering giant that simply mowed down nations in its path to conquering the world.
Here it’s Germania where we first meet the supremely competent, beloved and well respected General Maximus (Russell Crowe) who wins a fiercely fought battle and secures his position as the man the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) wants to succeed him over his own son, the wimpy, whiny Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix).
Commodus, as you might expect, does not take kindly to the idea of being usurped. His treachery is unleashed on both his father and Maximus, setting the stage for Maximus’ heroic return and ultimate revenge against the sniveling coward.
When Maximus makes his comeback, it’s as both a slave and gladiator, trained for the arena by a provincial “Entertainer” named Proximo (Oliver Reed in his last role) who himself was once a gladiator. Proximo doesn’t yet know Maximus’ true identity, only his talent and pretty soon he has his gladiators moving up from local contests to the Roman coliseum, performing for the new Emperor, the hideous Commodus. In the middle of it all is Commodus’ sister Lucilla (Connie Nielson), the sanity that lies between the Emperor’s destructiveness and the Roman senate that stands quivering in its togas and sandals.
“Gladiator is brilliantly staged by director Ridley Scott, cinematographer John Mathieson, and production designer Arthur Max. Crowe is believable and powerful as the General gladiator and his supporting cast is marvelous. How wonderful to see Richard Harris and Oliver Reed in roles that are worthy of their talents. Nielson is good as the frustrated sister and I loved seeing Derek Jacobi in his familiar toga albeit without his signature lisp and head jerk he was so famous for in the PBS classic series “I, Claudius”. Here he plays Senator Gracchus, the only senator with a conscience: “I don’t pretend to be a man of the people:, he tells another senator, “but I do try to be a man for the people.”
The overhead shots of the Roman Coliseum are formidable; the mood, setting and effects are excellent and very reminiscent of “Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc” (that few people saw), but that was by another director. This is Ridley Scott at his very best. As for the opening battle sequence and arena battles between gladiators, all I can say is magnificent.
Also features: Djimon Hounsou (from “Amistadt”) as Juba, Maximus’ slave friend in a poignant role.
Lotta says “Gladiator” packs a wallop of terrific acting, energy and visual effects.