Directed by Ridley Scott
Cast: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Richard Harris, Oliver Reed, Connie Nielsen, Djimon Hounsou
“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius. Commander of the Armies of the north, general of the Felix Legions. Loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife, and I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”
We all know this chilling, iconic speech from Ridley Scott’s epic triumph, Gladiator – the riveting tale of a General who became a slave, the slave who became a Gladiator, the Gladiator who defied an Emperor. Who could forget it? It was Russell Crowe’s defining on-screen moment and one that I believe will resound throughout the history of cinema, as will the movie itself.
There are very few directors that can claim to have breathed life into a once dead genre, and Ridley Scott placed himself on that list when he released Gladiator in 2000 (A.D.). Not only did he resurrect the Sword-and-Sandal epic, but he also brought life into ancient Rome herself, in all of her glory. I find the scope and grandeur of Gladiator to be on par with the likes of Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus and, my personal favorite, Braveheart. It is epic in every sense of the word – full of battles, stunning landscapes and visuals, politics, conspiracies and tragedies, all wrapped around a compelling story and hero at it’s core. From Germania to Spain, from North Africa to Rome, we see every corner of the empire through Maximus’ journey of revenge, with each location and set growing more and more spectacular, leading all the way to the awe-inspiring magnificence of the Colosseum and, once there, we bear witness to some of the most thrilling action set-pieces on film.
This movie is loaded with action that beats any flashy sword-and-sandal movie that’s been released since (suck it 300). The fights are bloody, gritty and magnificent, and it just keeps on raising the bar with each encounter, all the way up to the grande finale. Maximus’ face-off with Titus Agore (and the tigers) remains to be one of my favorite fights, but each battle is as thrilling as the next, each being executed with marvelous practicality and authenticity (let us not forget the battle of Carthage – simply awesome). Accompanying the clashing of swords is Hans Zimmer’s bombastic score. It ‘s powerful stuff – reveling in the glory unfolding on-screen, it compliments every victory and mourns every defeat, bringing the movie to full effectiveness in usual Zimmer fashion.
There is more, however, to Gladiator than it’s fantastic score and explosive action, and it’s what elevates the film over other such epics, and that is it’s brilliant cast. Between each fight, Gladiator maintains our attention with some sterling drama – with love, politics, murder, conspiracy, betrayal, revenge – and made all the more enticing with the fine performances. Crowe is monumental as Maximus, it’s the performance of his career. He’s ferocious both inside and out of the Colosseum and his presence commands every scene he’s in. It’s what iconic Hollywood leading men are made of, and Crowe owns every bit of it. He is perfectly matched, however, with the diplorably wicked and conniving Commodus, played here by the ever great Joaquin Phoenix. Their rivalry and each inevitable face-off between them will have you holding your breath as their words and actions are as brutal as their swordplay. To top that, you have a graceful performance from Richard Harris as Marcus Aurelius and then, of course, the scene-stealing Oliver Reed, who sadly gives us a great send-off in what would be his final performance as Proximo. Amongst these is an array of fine performances all around, each of them just adding to the depth of this incredible story.
Gladiator is a marvel amongst epics – visually stunning, action packed, well-acted – it’s gratifying on every level. It’s unforgettable – I’ve already mentioned what I believe to be one of the more iconic scenes in this movie, but this movie is jam-packed with such moments. Gladiator is great in every way and therefore fully deserves it’s place on the Movie Bucket. If you need any more convincing of it’s worthiness then just take a look at the name of our website…