Director: Ridley Scott
I seem to have this irrationally intense dislike of Russell Crowe and as such have avoided his film like the plague (I don’t know how I’m going to reconcile myself to the fact he is Javert in the upcoming Les Miserables film) Gladiator was the only set film that I didn’t watch during my degree! At the very least working my way through 1001 Movie You Must See Before You Die is challenging my viewing habits by forcing me to watch films I have previously had no desire to watch.
You can pretty much guarantee that the film will be beautifully constructed and shot when you have Ridley Scott at the helm. And Gladiator is no exception – the film is visually rich and epic in every sense from the story to the set pieces, very fitting considering it’s backdrop is the Roman Empire. Joanna Berry says Gladiator is “Hollywood’s first true Roman epic in over three decades.” The success seems to have begun a slow trickle of films concerning past empires with films such as 300 (Zack Snyder, 2006), Alexander (Oliver Stone, 2004), Clash of the Titans (Louis Leterrier, 2010), The Immortals (Tarsem Singh, 2011) and the most recent Roman epic, The Eagle (Kevin Macdonald, 2011) to come out in the last decade.
I can hear echoes of Pirates of the Caribbean (Gore Verbinski, 2003) in the soundtrack (or rather echoes of Gladiator in the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack as Gladiator came first!) but then that is hardly surprising as Hans Zimmer is the composer on each film. In fact whole musical sections have been lifted out of Gladiator and inserted into Pirates of the Caribbean. There is the inevitable question attached to war films – and this starts out as a war film – as to why they are there and what they are fighting for.
Joaquin Phoenix as the jealous and ambitious Commodus is cast very much as the baddie of the piece and has few, if any, redeemable qualities. A bit of an incestuous vibe from Commodus in his affections towards his sister. An unpopular ruler he rules as a tyrant. A weak, emotional, whiney and sickly looking man, it is obvious why Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) wanted Maximus as his successor rather than his own son. Oliver Reed, as Proximo, is still as menacing and powerful a figure as he was when playing Bill Sikes in Oliver! (Carol Reed, 1968) all those years ago. And still instantly recognizable as Bill Sikes! Crowe cuts a brooding figure as Maximus. You get the sense of a tightly controlled violence lurking just under the surface at all times. It is hard for me to not see all the makings of Dumbledore in Richard Harris’ Aurelius (he was the real embodiment of Dumbledore in my eyes, not Michael Gambon, but I digress!)
Scott captures the brutality of the gladiatorial fights well without neglecting the spectacle of them – he embraces the spectacle with elaborate costumes, or rather armor, of the more established gladiators. The gladiatorial fight scenes are especially well choreographed flowing beautifully. The Colosseum is magnificent – returned to all its former glory thanks to the wonder of technology. There are moments when it is obvious that a computer generated background has been inserted which alerts you to the artificial nature of the film. Having said that the computer graphics used to ensure that Reed could finish his role of Proximo despite his untimely death during filming is absolutely flawless – I cannot tell which scenes are really him and which are the stand-in with a c-g face.
Despite everything I found myself rooting for Maximus – Commodus is just so vile he needs to be removed! And even I have to admit that Crowe is commanding as Maximus (something I never thought I would say!) I’m feeling more comfortable in is casting as Javert in Les Miserables (Tom Hooper, 2013), despite not having heard him sing yet.