Gladiator (2000) starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris, Derek Jacobi, Djimon Hounsou directed by Ridley Scott Movie Review

Gladiator (2000)   5/55/55/55/55/5

Russell Crowe as Maximus in Gladiator

Maximus to Crowe about in this Gladiator of a Movie

"I'm not watching some historical rubbish" were the words a friend said when I invited them to watch Ridley Scott's "Gladiator". "That was absolutely brilliant" or words to that effect were what I heard after I forced them to watch it and to be honest it is pretty much the way I have felt about "Gladiator" ever since I first watched it. It has just about everything you could ask for from a modern epic, brilliant performances, stunning action, powerful soundtrack and most importantly a compelling storyline which drags you in to the thick of the action and takes you on a rollercoaster ride of blood, sweat and tears.

Having lead the Roman troops to victory in Germania, General Maximus (Russell Crowe - Mystery, Alaska) finds himself being favoured by the ageing Emperor, Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), that is until the Emperor's own son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix - 8MM), betrays his father and sentences Maximus to death. But having escaped his impending doom, Maximus discovers that his wife as well as his son have been brutally murdered on the orders of Commodus. Desolate at the loss of his family, he finds himself in the slavery of Proximo (Oliver Reed - The Three Musketeers) as a gladiator where he must learn to kill or be killed, especially when the gladiatorial spectacle returns to Rome for the pleasure of Commodus.

Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus in Gladiator

Now I will be the first to admit that I am no history expert and so wouldn't have a clue whether "Gladiator" is in the slightest bit historically accurate and it doesn't matter as the movie is not about the history but about one man's journey from being a Roman General, to slave and onto being a Gladiator where he seeks closure for the ill deeds which have befallen his family. To be honest the overall plotline of a man seeking justice is as unoriginal as they come, but it is the way the story is moulded which makes "Gladiator" stand head and shoulders above numerous other modern movies which try to be epic.

Right from the opening sequence, which is amazingly powerful, "Gladiator" builds up the story of Maximus the popular Roman General, but not just in the sense of his authority with the army or his popularity with the Emperor but also in his love for his family. But it doesn't stop there and right up to the dramatic climax, the story keeps on building with layer upon layer of detail, painting a marvellous picture which engulfs you in the life of this man.

That is not to say it is all just about Maximus as "Gladiator" is full of detail on all the major characters, from Commodus, Proximo and Maximus's brothers in arms, his fellow gladiators. If I was going to levy any criticism against the plot is that it is not so much predictable but doesn't really throw any twists at you, but then I question whether filling "Gladiator" with plot twists would have spoilt it.

One of the most impressive aspects to "Gladiator" is the intensity of the action sequences, and as previously mentioned the opening sequence which features the Roman Army taking on a Horde from Germania really is amazingly powerful, and could easily be compared to scenes from the equally stunning "Braveheart". In some ways the action could be classed as being quite blood thirsty, and at times the visualisation of some of the fighting does leave you drop jawed, but then I wouldn't class it in the least bit gratuitous and fits in perfectly with the atmosphere of the movie as well as the story.

Whilst the action is stunning it is without doubt aided by some equally stunning CGI effects and at times you struggle to work out what is stunt men plying their trade and what is computer graphics. But "Gladiator" is not just about the action and the balance between drama, action and CGI is perfect in my mind. It is these stunning action sequences combined with the compelling plot and brilliant performances, not forgetting the soundtrack which helps "Gladiator" stand out compared to many other similar movies.

Well you cannot mention "Gladiator" without also mentioning Russell Crowe, men want to be him, women want to be with him, or so I'm told. To be honest I have never been a huge fan of Crowe as in one breathe he can put in a stunning performance and then the next he puts in an equally dire, egotistical one. Thankfully his performance in "Gladiator" is one of his best, full of strength, passion but also sympathy for his co-stars allowing them to share the limelight with him; although it is such a great performance that even though I cannot criticise any of the other actors Crowe really is the star of the movie.

Crowe along with all the other actors do something which really makes a movie for me, they get so involved in their characters that I forget I'm watching actors perform but instead feel immersed into the storyline as well as the action. "Gladiator" really is studded with a plethora of star names with veterans such as Oliver Reed, Richard Harris and Derek Jacobi, as well as newer names such as Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielson and Djimon Hounsou all of which put in stunning performances.

The final element for me which makes "Gladiator" such a great cinematic experience is the beautifully subtle soundtrack, which is mainly composed by Hans Zimmer. I say subtle as throughout the movie you hear the orchestral music but it never comes across as being over powering, working more in tandem with all the other movies elements to create atmosphere and tension. Despite the subtlety it is very memorable and away from the movie, on hearing one piece, which appears to be the main re-occurring theme, your thoughts immediately return to the splendour which is "Gladiator".

What this all boils down to is that I think that "Gladiator" is absolutely brilliant, it has a decent story, brilliant drama, powerful action sequences, stunning performances and a great soundtrack, a movie which I feel deserves being called an epic. Even my only criticism of a plot which lacks and real twists or turns is a minor one and on the whole I struggle to find fault. For me the appeal lies in the stunning action sequences but for others it is the exceptional acting, or the compelling story but also it appeals to a wide range of people, young and old, male and female. At nearly 3 hours long "Gladiator" surprisingly whips along at a great pace and you really don't notice the time as you become immersed in what is going on.