Friday, 28 May 2010

50. GLADIATOR - 2000

Apologies that it has been so long since my previous post.

In the 2000s the sword and sandal epic became popular again, and these varied in quality from the awful ‘Alexander’, to the highly watchable ‘Troy’ and reached a peak with ‘Gladiator’, a tale of revenge in Ancient Rome.

The film tells the tale of Maximus (Russell Crowe), a Roman general, who is betrayed by Prince Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) after the death of the Emperor. Commodus orders the death of Maximus, and although he escapes, he finds his family murdered. After losing the will to carry on the general is captured by slave traders and sold to the owner of a Gladiator School, Proximo (Oliver Reed). Although he initially refuses to fight, he is clearly a brilliant fighter, and once his spirit is rebuilt, he vows to avenge the death of his family.

With big fight scenes, sweeping vistas and a proper hero to support, ‘Gladiator’ really is a great piece of entertainment. I am not usually one to really enjoy big modern blockbusters, favouring largely more serious dramas, but there is something about ‘Gladiator’ that I really enjoyed. It could have been a very dull film, with overly-long fight scenes, or unnecessarily sentimental with lengthy shots of Crowe finding himself, but it isn’t. Essentially it’s a very simple film in terms of the issues, and this is the film’s greatest strength: it doesn’t pretend to be anything that it isn’t. My issue with films such as ‘Avatar’ (not the worst culprit, but a recent one) is that they can feel a bit preachy and manipulative, but ‘Gladiator’ never goes off track. It entertains from start to finish.

Technically this is a beautifully made film. The cinematography is at once impressive and subtle. The visuals add to the film without dominating, and the film is always about the characters and never about the special effects. The same can be said about the music.

The acting is consistent throughout. Although there are better actors than Crowe, this part was made for him to play, and I enjoyed his performance.
Joaquin Phoenix is my favourite in this film. He is powerful, nasty and yet still manages to have a slight charisma, which is what I always want from a screen villain. Oliver Reed delivered his final film performance in this film and his career definitely ended on a high note. There are several other big names in this film, and I cannot criticise any of the performances, it is a very well balanced film.

Admittedly this film is not the most intellectual film ever made. The script, whilst it contains some good one-liners, is there to give the actors something to say, rather than to be admired for its own merit. Having said that, this film was not meant to be anything more than great entertainment, and it is therefore in my eyes a success. Ridley Scott is also responsible for ‘Alien’, one of the greatest science-fiction films ever made and whereas ‘Gladiator’ doesn’t quite do enough to challenge ‘Alien’ as his greatest film, it’s a film that anyone should enjoy.

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