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Hollywood Spotlight - Reviews [Gladiator]
ORIGINAL FULL FILM REVIEW
Action / Adventure / Drama
A hero will rise.
R (intense graphic combat)
Written By / Screenplay By:
David H. Franzoni
Laurie MacDonald, Walter Parkes, David H. Franzoni, Douglas Wick, Steven Spielberg
Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Djimon Hounsou
∑ Synopsis: [Recommended Reading] In the final days of Marcus Aurelius' reign, the aging emperor arouses his son Commodus' anger when he makes known his wish that Maximus be his successor. Power-hungry Commodus kills his father and orders the death of Maximus. But the latter flees and hides his identity by becoming slave and a gladiator. Eventually, Maximus journeys back to Rome to confront his archrival.
T he fate of a dying nation lies in the hands of a single man. The leader is backed by the Senate, but only so long as they are in agreement. Millions look to him to provide answers. He presides over a vast land, stretching from sea to sea. He has the potential to build or destroy at the command of a whim. The President of modern United States? Close, but not quite - he is the Emperor of the ancient Roman Empire. The list of similarities between two nations separated by nearly two thousand years is impressive, but there is one distinctive difference - if a single man were to formulate an uprising today, he would certainly have little chance of success in the United States.
Gladiator is the story of one manís mission to reform the most powerful nation that the Worldís history has ever known - against all odds. Maximus [Russell Crowe - The Insider, L.A. Confidential, and others] is an army General, serving the noble Emperor Marcus Aurelius [Richard Harris - Oscar Nominee for This Sporting Life and The Field, Patriot Games, MUCH more since the 1950ís] by leading war campaigns to expand the territory of the Empire. Marcus Aurelius is getting on in years and knows that it will soon be time to pass the throne to his son, Commodus Aurelius [Joaquin Phoenix - 8mm, Clay Pigeons, more]. But Commodus is a naÔve young man who Marcus does not feel is fit to rule the Empire. Marcus seems to be more familiar and in tune with Maximus than his own son. He had worked closely with Maximus over the years in battle, but is also familiar with the past relationship between Maximus and his daughter, Princess Lucilla Aurelius [Connie Nielsen - Mission To Mars, Soldier, The Devilís Advocate, and more]. So Marcus makes known to Maximus his dying wish - that Maximus be the one to lead the Empire to days of glory, that he return the power to the people, and that his son never rule. When word of his fatherís final wish reaches Commodus, in an emotional outrage, he takes advantage of his princely powers and sentences Maximus to death and subsequently gains the throne. Unbeknownst to Commodus, Maximus escapes his executors and flees, only to be re-captured by slave traders some distance away. Maximus is nursed back to health, then forced into center-ring combat for the amusement of local spectators. He is expected to kill or be killed, and so kill he does. In the ring, Maximus finds comradery with a fellow captive, Juba [Djimon Hounsou - Amistad, Deep Rising, Stargate, and others]. Together, the gladiators Maximus and Juba fight their way to victory time and time again. This goes on for some time until one day when the gladiators are invited to battle before the Emperor himself in the great Coliseum. Finally, Maximusí time has come to get close enough to the Emperor Commodus to seek his revenge.
Ridley ScottísGladiator is a powerful tale of love, honor, integrity and victory. It challenges the very essence of honor, dignity, pride and dedication. It encompasses both the finer and weaker points of humanity, embraces both life and death, and leads the viewer through a path of prevailing truth. Gladiator may seem slow at times to some, but this film is not about battles. It is not about killing and action and sword fights. It is about the personal conquest of one man, and along with that comes both action and calmness. Sometimes it seems that all some people want in an action movie is non-stop action from start to finish. If you look at films that actually follow this pattern, you might find them to be among the weakest films to be released. Gladiator is a moving tale of spirit and is appropriately accompanied by strong action sequences, but should not be looked upon as an ďaction movie.Ē
It is a tremendous undertaking to portray on film something so great and vast that once existed, but today lies only in stories, art, sculpture, and imagination. Gladiator makes extensive use of combinations of computer-generated imagery and live-action shots in an attempt to resurrect the grandeur of Romanesque life. Iím torn between being thoroughly impressed and thoroughly displeased. While the cityscapes were incredibly intricate candy for the eyes to feast on, knowing that no such place exists and would be a horrific effort to model, my eyes automatically began searching the screen for mistakes. And indeed there were some, ranging from the pathetic attempt at adding scavenger birds circling over a location to poorly combined overhead shots containing masses of people milling about. I think I can most effectively respond to the visual aspects of this film by saying that they are both impressive and displeasing. The artwork and design-effort are impressive, but the final cut in some cases seemed to be lacking some element that would lend to the realism of the effects.
Additionally, I found there to be several technical errors in the film. They were minor oversights, perhaps even conscientious decisions, that I caught, but many might overlook. Every time I see a film that transports the viewer in time, I try to scope the entire scene for elements of the picture that bring the viewer into the timeframe. I watch for technology, artifacts, even dialect. An example of a technology error in this film - wasnít refined glass produced for the first time nearly a thousand years after this story took place? Watch for it, itís on the screen prominently. Another thing that I (and many, Iím sure) watch for is continuity of the film. There were a number of places with poor continuity in this film. In one of the final scenes, we find Maximusí friend Juba burying some artifacts in dark soil. The camera switches to an overhead view and you see that he is surrounded by light soil, not dark. These kinds of detail oversights sometimes go by unnoticed, but in other cases the filmmakers are aware of them but have chosen to dismiss them for time or budget constraints. No matter what the case, however I donít see them as being severely detrimental to the film.
An indisputably redeeming quality of this film was the cinematography. Repeatedly, the audience is dropped center stage into army battles, gladiator struggles and the ramblings of psychosis. There are impressive battle scenes with never-before-seen effects and war tactics. The fact that the viewer is not subjected to excessive gore during the chaos and confusion of the struggles highlights that the focus of the film is not the battles themselves. While there is the occasional severed limb or torso, slashed face or mid-section, there is not the spewing guts and blood and agonizing torment that may be seen in other such films (*cough* The Messenger *cough*). Another aspect of this film that caught my attention was the extensive use of surround speaker channels, particularly during the fighting and action scenes -yeah, baby - thatís going to translate nicely for DVD!
But wait, thereís more. The cast in this film was a dream to watch. I found no weak links when it came to analyzing the portrayal of each character - each was as they should be. Russell Crowe is of course a shining light for this presentation. Crowe has performed valiantly as the protagonist element in the last three films in which I have seen him, and this one is no different. However, other key players also gave exquisite performances without which this movie might flounder. As the princess Lucilla Aurelius, Connie Nielsen made a dramatic role come alive. There were places in this film where watching Nielsen actually reminded me of Carrie Fisher (Star Wars). Richard Harris who played the short-lived part of Emperor Marcus Aurelius is also a joy to watch. Harris has had a remarkable acting career and all those years of experience are quite clearly demonstrated in his touching performance. Djimon Hounsou, while he did not have a large role in the film, was crucial to the story and character development of Maximus. Hounsou seems to subtly enact the part of Maximusí friend very well - and a small sub-story on Juba as an additional character with whom to relate. And finally, there is Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix played the despicable part of Prince and Emperor Commodus Aurelius with an unparalleled style. Phoenix delivers an emotionally troubled performance that easily leads the viewer to despise his character. These several starring actors are obviously keys to the success of the film, but in addition to their performances, there were many smaller parts played by a an abundance of faces, both young and old, all of whom deserve recognition.
While Gladiator is not a perfect presentation, I think it comes as nearly close to it as possible in modern filmmaking. It is an enjoyable tale with many unexpected twists and turns, heart-pounding action sequences, and as much diabolical scheming as in immature Emperor can deliver. It is worth every minute of the theatrical experience, and I think will one day make a worthwhile addition to a DVD collection. Gladiator has been hyped up with theatrical trailers for quite some time now, but it is not as 100% action-intensive as the trailers may have made it seem. The action is great, and there is quite a bit of it to enjoy, however there is more substance to the film than just action.