Gladiator Film Review

Director: Ridley Scott

Starring Russell Crowe

150 minutes

(380 wds)

by Russell McGilton

Touted as the next Titanic (strange as there’s no boat in this film), Gladiator promises to be bigger than Ben-Hur. And this maybe so if not in budget. With an estimated cost of $100 million the film was shot in the UK, Morocco and Malta to recreate the grandeur of Rome and numerous battle scenes.

Set in Rome at AD 180, the story is about Maximus Decimus Meridus, played with smouldering moodiness by Russell Crowe, who seeks revenge upon the Emperor’s son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) who has seized power by murdering his own father, Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris).

The film begins with a spectacular battle between the Romans and the Germania armies. Worshiped as a hero by his men, Maximus is to be enthroned as the new Emperor of Rome but is thwarted by Commodus who orders him to be executed. Escaping his fate Maximus finds himself captured and forced to fight in a touring gladiator circus run by Proximo, played by the late Oliver Reed who died during the making of the film.

Thankfully there’s enough butt-clenching action to keep the film afloat from its mediocre script. The gladiator scenes are particularly bloody as limbs and heads are hacked off by our hero and his skirt-wearing entourage (Crowe apparently received some real wounds for his troubles).

Performance wise, Derek Jacobi (I Claudis) provides a comfortable portrayal as a conspiratorial senator while Richard Harris shows that he still has the charismatic weight of his former years. And of course, Russell Crowe gives us another brutish yet Hamlet-like performance.

Despite the drawbacks of the script, it does manage to provide insights into the Roman period such as the fractions between the Emperor, the Senate and the Praetorian Guard. In one scene Commudus, quickly losing favour with the masses, declares 150 days of games and has free bread thrown to crowds. It’s all a bit too reminiscent of those glorious Kennett days, bread and circuses!

Like Scott’s other epics (Blade Runner, Alien) the characters and script are overwhelmed by the grandeur of exotic locations and impressive special effects. Having said that, it’s certainly worth assaulting your sensors to what Hollywood has always been good at doing – the grand epic.