Gladiator

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I knew one day I would have to watch Gladiator; the high praise that’s given to the film by my friends and the impressive 5 Academy Awards left me very interested in watching the film. I’m not the biggest fan of this time period i.e romans and their empire, but leads from Russel Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix convinced me to finally watch this best picture winner from Ridley Scott.

Maximus (Russell Crowe) is a heroic general from Spain under the Roman Empire. The dying emperor of Rome, Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) wishes for Maximus to take over Rome after his death and return the city to the people. Maximus ask for time to make a decision because he’s spent a long time in battle away from his wife and son. Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), the son of Marcus, expects that he will be announced as the new Emperor but upon learning that his father favorites Maximus more, he kills his own father to gain control of the throne.

Commodus offers his friendship to Maximus, but he does not extend his hand for this friendship, which leaves Commodus no choice but to have him executed. To no surpise, Maximus escapes this execution and returns home only to find that Commodus had his wife and son murdered and nailed up hanging. Due to deep distress Maximus winds up in Northern Africa as a slave under Gladiator manager Proximo (Oliver Reed). Maximus is reborn into a Gladitor. While He slashes his why to the top of the ranks; Commodus lifts the ban on Gladiators in Rome in order to distract people from the ongoing plague, hunger, and his poor leadership qualities. Maximus befriends the other gladiators such as Juba (Djimon Hounsou) and work together to reach the massive arena in Rome. Through the help of Commodus’ sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen), Maximus tries to get closer to the emperor to avenge his families death and return Rome to it’s people.

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Immediately when the film began I had problems with it. The quality of the picture was very murky; Initially I was not be too bothered by it because they were out in the woods fighting. However as the film progressed I learned that this was the stylistic choice from Ridley Scott. I’m not sure how this even happened considering Alien and Blade Runner looked absolutely beautiful in it’s colors and rich in texture. I say that because those films are older than Gladiator. I was distracted by the look because it took away details, and was not that great looking in the dark. There was also some strange tints used that didn’t really seem necessary. This is more so a personal problem I had with the film but in no way does it hamper the quality of the story and acting.

The story is fairly well known; A man loses his family, and has to work his way back up to exact his revenge. I liked that this story was done through Gladiators. Russel Crowe was picked correctly as Maximus, and was able to be heroic at all times allowing for the audience to root him on to victory. Not only was he heroic, he was able to slaughter anyone in his path which kept me wildly entertained but that bothered me as well. I knew from the get go that Maximus would easily make his way back to Rome one way or another and leave a trail of blood on his path. Crowe worked well with his character which is ultimately why I enjoyed the film. I highly doubt this was intended but just like my friend Hunter, I sympathized more with Commodus. I know he was extremely whiny and complained at every given moment, but I felt bad for the man. I don’t think he had any friends, the senate didn’t like him and he was the lover of his sister. Phoenix did well to not make him a like able character which almost led me to believe acted better than Crowe, but I realized that Commodus was just a more interesting character than Maximus; whose goals were straightforward and predictable. I mean Maximus shrugged off a tiger for crying out loud, which was bad ass of him to do so, but I enjoyed watching Commodus’ interesting ways of handling situations.

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I know this may seem like I have a problem with everything the film has to offer but give me a few moments to show otherwise. Gladiator is well made despite a few stylistic choices, and predictability. Each battle with the exception of the first kept me enthralled due to sword fights and knowing that a lot of blood would be shed. We are almost no different from the crowd that watches cheering through excitement when we watch a man cut in half, or better yet have is head chopped off. There was a moment where I started to question my own morals and thought to myself; This actually happened, how in the world did people find this entertaining. To know that somebody is losing their life for the mere entertainment by royalty and other people left me sick. A few moments later Maximus steps into the arena vs a man who’s never lost a battle, and I found myself cheering him on and wishing death upon anybody that tries to kill him.

I understand how Gladiator received five Academy Awards, and why it’s held as a classic by many people. Unfortunately I don’t feel the same for this film. I know that the things in the film that bothered me won’t bother most people, but I expected better by somebody of Ridley Scott’s legendary status. The drama, acting, and entertainment is all there leaving the film to be pretty enjoyable. I’m sure I will revisit Gladiator a few more times and we’ll see if I learn to love the film.

Rating: ★★★½ / ★★★★★

Dir. Ridley Scott
IMDb 8.5/10 – Rotten Tomatoes 76%
Nominated for 12 Academy Awards
Won Golden Globe – Best Picture, Score
Won BAFTA Award – Best Film, Cinematography, Editing, Production Design
Won Academy Award – Best Picture, Actor, costume design, visual effects, and sound

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“Are you not entertained!?”

For Further Reading:

The Soul of the Plot’s Review

Roger Ebert’s Review

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