Russell Crowe plays Maximus, a faithful and successful Roman General in the service of Marcus Aurelius (aptly played by the late Richard Harris). His loyal and selfless servitude is rewarded by the Emperor with a pledge of being leader in his place when he dies, until Rome again becomes a republic. This pledge is betrayed by the Emperors son, Commodus (played by Joaquin Phoenix), who murders his own father and usurps the throne. Aware of the promise made to Maximus, Commodus orders Maximus execution and has his lands taken, his title stripped, and his family murdered.
Maximus narrowly escapes his pursuers, is left for dead and sold to slavery. In North Africa, Proximo (Oliver Reeds last, though excellent, on-screen performance) purchases the fazed former general and enlists him as a gladiator. With nothing left to live except a quest for vengeance, Maximus ferociously fights in arenas, winning all his battles and eventually working his way to the Coliseum in Rome, where he plots to have his revenge. The film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Its epic scope (set in 150 A. D.
), savage battle scenes, rousing soundtrack and superb performances by the cast were well-received in the global box-office, raking in almost half a billion U. S. Dollars. Its influence is felt with the revival of the historical epic in Hollywood, with subsequent releases of Troy, Alexander, 300 and Ridley Scotts own Kingdom of Heaven. Given the superlative success that the film had, it is quite surprising to discover that the film encountered numerous hiccups during production. For instance, the script had to be rewritten numerous times and the plotline needed several revisions.
There was even talk of Russell Crowe, the actor playing the star role, walking out of the set when not getting what he wanted. There is also the tragic death of Oliver Reed during filming which editors had to fix in post-production using clever computer superimposing and body-doubles. Nevertheless, the film delivers a heroic display worthy of past Hollywood greats such as Spartacus and The 300 Spartans. Critics complain of the lack of depth in the characters as the main protagonists often deliver scenes of depression and moroseness.
Others counter that a hero is supposed to undergo such catharses in order to contrast it with developments later on in the movie, of which this writer agrees. The set, albeit designed and executed using sophisticated computer imagery, was not in any way intrusive to the story being told. In fact, the background was more than sufficient in suspending disbelief and even adds to the fervor with its monstrous crowds and impressive panorama. There were those who questioned the brutal blood and gore displayed in the battle scenes and the arenas as being over-the-top and bordering on gratuity.
They however fail to mention that, unlike the famous Hollywood yarns of the past, todays sagas are more compelling due to the realism employed. It is impossible for you to realize the barbarity and desperation of gladiatorial combat if the setting omits the consequences of blood and gore that face those in defeat. All in all, Gladiator attains the rank of immortality to the movie-going public due to its enlivening account of the vindication of a judicious and honorable man wronged by the greedy ambitions of a damnable nemesis.
Its distinctive gift to its watchers of being able to reach back to hallowed antiquity and see the triumph and spectacle of a worthy warrior win his quest is deserving of all the accolades given to it. For, if such a spectacular and gripping show as Gladiator is, if it still fails to grip the viewer into vicarious entertainment, there may be a need to ask Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?
1. Gladiator: Widescreen Edition. Dir. Ridley Scott. Perf. Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed and Richard Harris. 2000. Universal Studios, 2003.