British Actor Ridley Scott has won many awards for his films and is extremely well known, especially for Blade Runner and Alien, neither of which I’ve seen. I became interested in his movies when I saw Exodus Gods and Kings in Dec. 2014, and followed that up with Kingdom of Heaven with Orlando Bloom. I decided that I’d heard so much about Gladiator (Best Picture 2000), and I like Russell Crowe, it was time I saw it. I picked it up recently and watched it last night. It blew me away.
The premise is that Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), is with his army in Germania under the leadership of General Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe), an honourable, courageous fighter, a born strategist, who the Emperor looks upon as a son. This is the final battle to bring the known world under command of the Roman Empire (circa AD180), after which, he wants to return Rome to a democracy with power to the senate; he wants Maximus to be regent to save it from corrupt officials. His real son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), has none of the qualities his father sees as essential for a leader and Marcus Aurelius doesn’t want him to rule.
As the film begins, the Roman army is preparing for battle and it is obvious the troops love Maximus and would follow him anywhere. I found the battle itself rather gory at first, but then the filming becomes quite artsy and the details blur. Commodus, a man as corrupt and deviant as Claudius, arrives in great pomp and ceremony after the battle is won. When he learns of his family’s plan, he strangles his father, condemns Maximus, kills his family, and declares himself emperor.
Crowe’s portrayal of Maximus is one of a man determined to live until he avenges his family and Marcus Aurelius but all will be done in an honourable way. He is captured by slavers along with other unfortunates where he becomes a favoured gladiator and wins over his fellows to fight as a team. One of them, Juba (played by Djimon Hounsou), befriends Maximus from the beginning and is particularly loyal, as the slave owner Proximo (Oliver Reed in his last role). He ends up in the Roman arena where he captures the hearts of the people, including Commodus’ nephew. Commodus’ sister, Lucilla (played by Connie Nielsen), has a previous attachment with Maximus and tries to help him escape to rally his former legions to take over Rome and hand it back to the people. But Commodus is desperate and devious. (I won’t spoil it; if you want to know the ending you will find it in many places on the net.)
This movie is an epic in every sense. The war scene, the coliseum events, all were on a fabulous scale with incredible sets, spectacular chariot races, voracious tigers, and an awe inspiring pretorian guard. It can easily rival Ben-Hur, Exodus, Lawrence of Arabia, or Troy for its scope and fine filming. If you’re looking for great entertainment at home this weekend, cozy up with popcorn and your large-screen TV and put Gladiator on. Gladiator won’t disappoint. * * * * *