Classic Film: Gladiator
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen
Runtime: 115 mins
Rating: * * * * *
Credited with single-handedly resurrecting the sword and sandal genre for a new generation (and unfortunately paving the way for such pale imitations as Troy and 300), Ridley Scott’s Roman epic was both a box office smash and a critical success, and justifiably so.
Its success lies in Scott’s skillful juggling of compelling Roman politics, timeless underdog heroics and a series of thrilling, visceral action scenes. Russell Crowe leads an outstanding cast in the role for which he will surely be best remembered. As Maximus Decimus Meridius, he gives a performance of tremendous authority, grabbing the character by the neck and vividly realising him as both fearsome and sympathetic. His hardships are painfully felt all the way from his introduction on the battlefield and his Spanish farmstead to the film’s climax in the arena. Indeed, the unexpected finale is one of the most emotionally resonant of any action movie.
It is due to Crowe’s gravitas and acting abilities, and perhaps a little manipulative story-telling, that Maximus is able to remain a human character rather than a simply larger than life hero, which the gladiatorial combat scenes often threaten to make him. From the opening epic battle to an exhilarating fight against both gladiator and tigers, via a brutal chariot race on a scale not seen since Ben Hur, Scott bombards the audience with increasingly intense action. Empowered by Hans Zimmer’s rousing score, these scenes are as exciting and spectacular as a spectator could hope for, and really do place you right in the heart of the colosseum.
Sure to go down as a modern classic, this mammoth tale of honour, betrayal and bravery is film-making at its grandest, and a welcome throw-back to the Hollywood epics of a bygone era.