My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.
Are you not entertained?
Are you not entertained?
Is this not why you are here?
Juba (Djimon Hounsou)
You risk too much.
I have much to pay for.
You have nothing to pay for.
Today I saw a slave become more powerful than the Emperor of Rome.
Maybe director Ridley Scott rewrote Roman history. Maybe the art direction caused most of the shots of ancient Rome, circa 180 BC, to look muddy and depressing. Maybe the plot of Gladiator was too simple, if not simple-minded. So what? This is a great movie!
Proximo (Oliver Reed) addresses his gladiator-slaves:
Hagen (Ralph Moeller), Juba, and "The Spaniard" (Maximus)
It is here that Scott recreates the Rome we've always imagined: perhaps not shiny and bright, but certainly real enough to believe. As the birds fly past the digitally restored Coliseum, and Juba intones, "I did not know men could build such things," I found myself thinking similar thoughts about what I was watching. I did not know film could create such things. (Indeed, Scott was pressed to digitize Oliver Reed's face to complete the film, after the actor's fatal heart attack after overindulging at a bar.)
The plot has its dragging moments and the script its pedestrian lines, of course, but I didn't care. I came to Gladiator to see a hero only slightly larger than life, and that is what this film gave me. The intrigue with the Senate, of which Gracchus (Derek Jacobi, who played Emperor Claudius in the 1976 PBS series) is the leading representative, may have been naïve politics. But the heroism and skill in the battle scenes makes up for those shortcomings, and the photography and choreography slashed to pieces any reservations I might have had about historical accuracy (Commodus did fight in the arena, but he was murdered in his dressing room). The film did, after all, win Best Picture, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, and Best Costumes -- in addition to Best Actor honors for Russell Crowe (2001).
If an excess of heroism is a vice, Gladiator is guilty. But this tale is of sweet, even poetic, revenge. There are so few heroes in our day and age that even the concept is called into question. Maybe they live only in movies because movies inspire, indeed require, suspension of disbelief. I was overwhelmed by the power of this film -- the power to dazzle and the power to encourage. Gladiator gives viewers something to cheer for: Maximus is a hero for our time.
Gladiator (2000) 155 min. Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by David H. Franzoni (story); David H. Franzoni, John Logan and William Nicholson (screenplay). Cast: Russell Crowe as General Maximus Decimus Meridus, Joaquin Phoenix as Emperor Commodus, Connie Nielsen as Lucilla, Oliver Reed as Antonius Proximo, Richard Harris as Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Derek Jacobi as Senator Gracchus, Djimon Hounsou as Juba, David Schofield as Falco, John Shrapnel as Gaius, Tomas Arana as Quintus, David Hemmings as Cassius, Ralph Moeller as Hagen, Spencer Treat Clark as Lucius Verus, Tommy Flanagan as Cicero, Sven-Ole Thorsen as Tigris (Titus) of Gaul. Also known as: The Gladiators (1999) (USA: working title)
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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.
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