This movie was great. I saw it the first weekend that it came out, and so did a lot of people whom I know. I apologize for taking so long to write this review, but I have been quite busy as of late. So let's get right to it.
I have to start right off with the special effects. They were amazing! And what really makes them stand out is the fact that you don't notice them. Only until I later saw a television show explaining some of the effects that were done did I realize how great they were. There was such a great degree of realism.
This movie sports the best villain in a long time. He is Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix, brother to River Phoenix, seen below on left). He is the evil and wicked Emporer of Rome. Villains are essential to any heroic movie; without them, a hero is not possible. Phoenix's performance is amazing. I truly cheered his eventual death as much as I ever have that of a villain (rivaling that of the Emporer Palpatine or Darth Maul of Star Wars lore).
Especially good was the music. The score of this film is quite heroic and echoes as well as foreshadows what happens on screen.
I also enjoyed Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) as the Emporer's sister and the Gladiator's sympathizer. She was very beautiful, strong, smart, and vulnerable.
Finally, there is Russel Crowe (seen below on right) who plays our hero, Maximus...the Gladiator. Crowe is a superb actor and it was great to see him finally kick some butt (he got pushed around a lot in The Insider).
The only thing that somewhat takes away from Crowe's performance is that his gladiator is so super-human that he is hard to identify with. In addition, Gladiator has too many similarities to Braveheart. For example, a big war, the leader is captured and killed, the hero just wants to be with his family, the hero messes around with the enemy princess, etc. Speaking of his family though, there is not enough footage of them. Thus, we are not as tied emotionally to them as we should be. As I think of it, there are a lot of scenes that could have been added to this film, but then it would have taken a whole day just to watch it.
I did not like the little kid prince Lucius; he was quite annoying. Although, I did like when he asked Maximus something along the lines of, "I have heard that you were bigger, and that you can crush a man's skull with your hand." To which Maximus replies, "Maybe not a man's, but a boy's certainly." At this, Lucius cautiously steps backwards.
This movie is extremely violent and gory. There was one point in the film where I questioned why I came. It was just before the first gladiator scene in the small arena. Standing outside of the gate was a monstrous person swinging a flail waiting for his victims to be released. The first one in line was already pissing his pants. It was at this point that I said to myself, "Do I really want to see this? Why did I come here?" But, you know, it is called "Gladiator". What was I to expect?
I wound up realizing that the violence was necessary. It really captures the wickedness so prevalent at the height of the Roman Empire.
Another interesting point centers around the crowds. The mobs. The fans. The madness. They were always referred to as a collective entity, and it really demonstrates the behavior differences between an individual and a member of a crowd. It also highlights the importance of mass appeal. And what does it say about us? Look how well such a violent movie is doing at the box office! And are things such as boxing matches and auto racing really that different? Let's face it, people go to auto races to see crashes. Another example of our thirst for violence is in the news. We always watch footage of wars and battles going on.
Another truly interesting subject is, again, the special effects. The Roman Coliseum was constructed for the film as a partial set. During filming, only a handful of extras were brought in for the crowds. The rest was done with digital effects (the Coliseum and its capacity crowd). That is truly awesome.
However, even more intriguing is the fact that one of the major actors, Oliver Reed (who plays Proximo -- seen right), died before finishing the movie. A body double was used from then on, and Reed's face was then digitally superimposed on that of the body double. This is amazing stuff. Pretty soon, we won't need actors anymore, will we?
These were the action sequences. In particular, I will never forget:
This film offers several memorable quotes. My favorite is featured in the official trailer, and it goes something like this:
- The escape of Maximus from execution towards the beginning of the film,
- The first battle taking place in the Roman Coliseum. The chariots with bladed wheels carrying archers who shot toward the gladiators,
- Maximus, impatiently waiting to climb the ramp to the Coliseum arena for his next battle. Feverishly flailing his sword as Proximo gives him a few last words of advice. This really got my heart pounding for what was to come
- Taking on tigers and a gladiator at the same time...now that was awesome!
Commodus: You do have a name?
View the clip.
Maximus: My name is gladiator.
(Maximus turns away.)
Commodus: Slave! You will remove your helmet and tell me your name.
Maximus: My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius...Father to a murdered son! Husband to a murdered wife! And I well have my vengeance; in this life or the next.
Another great quote was given by Maximus in the opening battle scene:
What we do in life echoes an eternity.
I highly recommend this film. However, be cognizant of the fact that it is about gladiators. About men killing each other for sport and entertainment.