Gladiator is one of those defining-moment movies. It was the face of the new millennium, coming out in May of 2000 and taking box offices by storm. It was an epic to end all epics, taking on ancient Rome with ease, sending audiences into the arenas and forcing us to smell the blood. And it would sweep the Academy Awards, winning for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Sound, Best Effects, Best Costumes, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor. It was a huge project, a massive hit, a take-no-prisoners film. But that was 14 years ago. We’re not as enamored with Russell Crowe as we once were, we’ve seen a million period-piece epics, and it’s not so easy to create one project that blows away all other films. Would Gladiator stand up to a re-watch and some extra scrutiny?
The gladiator of the title is a man named Maximus, a warrior with only one thing on his mind; revenge. In his past life, Maximus was a general in the great Roman army, conquering Rome’s enemies in the north and helping to expand the empire. He fought for his Caesar, the wise old Marcus Aurelius. But when the emperor dies and his son Commodus takes over, Maximus is no longer in favor, all the more because he has been charged with giving power back to the Senate, a thing that Commodus can never allow. Stripped of his titles and betrayed by his country, Maximus finds himself enslaved, forced to become a gladiator with no hope for survival. But survive he does, flourishing in the arena and driven by his desire to face the man who took everything away from him. His chance comes when he travels to Rome itself, fighting for the pleasures of the crowd, but always with vengeance on his mind.
Watching the film again after so many years is a mixed bag. The action stands up perfectly well, the battles in the sand holding just as much energy and gore as one could hope for. The sets are magnificent, as are the costumes, colors, landscapes, architecture. All the visuals are there and nothing of that nature was lost in translation. And the acting was still strong as well. Crowe as Maximus was solid and that will always be his career-defining role. It was cool to see Phoenix as Commodus, knowing how well he’s done since then, and I think it’s safe to say that he stole the show. The weakest parts were the dialogues, those long dramatic conversations between main characters that dragged on a bit, getting in the way of the story as often as aiding it. I had forgotten just how long the movie was and how sometimes it felt a bit boring. I wished that the action told the story more often instead of being talk battle talk battle talk. Ridley Scott is a great director, but I think he failed to meld together all the great pieces into one perfect unit. That said, Gladiator is still an excellent film, one that defined a moment and still remains viable today.
My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆