Gladiator (2000) Director: Ridley Scott
Gladiator is the modern warrior-revenge epic film. Of course, the film stars Russell Crowe, in his finest performance as the Spaniard-Roman general, Maximus Decimus Meridius, alongside Joaquin Phoenix, the pale and greedy son, Commodus, who murders his father, the noble Marcus Aurelius, in pursuit of power. Maximus is favored by Marcus Aurelius for his many victories in war, including against the Goths, and thus he is intended to succeed emperor Marcus Aurelius as ruler of Rome. Maximus is dismissed and sold into slavery, while his family is killed. As a slave he eventually proves himself as a gladiator, entertaining large crowds, until he is brought to fight in the coliseum. His identity is revealed as he defies the will of the emperor and Cicero meets with him in private to arrange an escape and a coup, as his armies are still faithful, but it fails and he brought back to the ring to fight. After defeating every great warrior, the emperor Commodus, himself, goes to battle Maximus. He stabs Maximus before the fight secretly, but Maximus still kills him. Before he dies, he calls for reforms in Rome. The film closes as he appears again with his family among wheat fields, after death.
The plot for the film is based on Daniel P. Mannix’s 1958 novel, Those About To Die. The film, predictably, swept the Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, as well as Best Actor (Russell Crowe, who was apparently a nightmare to work with on the set, always attempting to rewrite the script). There is some marvelous special effects in the film to recreate Rome, and also Oliver Reed, who plays Proximo, the slave-owner who purchases Maximus, died of a heartache during film-making (he was a heavy alcoholic). Effects were used to create a body double for him.
The film pulls from a rich history of Roman lore, though some pieces of the film are anachronistic – outfits, helmets, and gladiators would have been plugging products to sell in the ring, as well. It draws upon allusions to I, Claudius, the famous novel, as well as ancient writings from Plutarch and the film Spartacus. Also of influence to the film was Pollice Verso 1872 (“with a well-turned thumb” in Latin) by: Jean-Léon Gérôme
Gladiator is an excellent film, one of the best of the 2000s to be sure. It is exciting, horrifying, tragic, yet satisfying all at once. It is well-cast, surely one of Russell Crowe’s best performances and also the same for Joaquin Phoenix. The Hans Zimmer score for the film is brilliant, and the cinematography is great, although hazy and depressing at times, giving the film a gritty and dark undertone, following in line with the modern view that life in antiquity was “solitary, nasty, brutish, and short…” Despite its extreme violence and minor historical inaccuracies (which were deliberate) Gladiator is a great film.