Gladiator is easily Sir Ridley Scott’s best film to date; with stunning visuals, a likable protagonist and a hateful villain it remains an absolute classic. Hans Zimmer has never been better either.
Plot: Set in Roman times, the story of a once-powerful general forced to become a common gladiator. The emperor’s son is enraged when he is passed over as heir in favour of his father’s favourite general. He kills his father and arranges the murder of the general’s family, and the general is sold into slavery to be trained as a gladiator – but his subsequent popularity in the arena threatens the throne.
Review: I’m still bothered that Sir Ridley Scott has never received a “Best Director” Oscar and if ever he was robbed, it was for Gladiator; sure Blade Runner and Alien are fantastic, but Gladiator has something they don’t: emotion and good pacing with characters we genuinely care about.
In Sir Ridley’s younger years he even admits himself that he was more concerned with creating beautiful visuals rather than emotionally engaging characters. Gladiator is when Scott reached legendary heights, where everything just came together perfectly.
The cast, the visuals, the pacing and the music are all just spectacular; Hans Zimmer was also denied an Oscar and was beaten (for purely political reasons) by the less interesting Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Admittedly it was also a good film, but it was nowhere near as amazing as Gladiator. Zimmer’s themes “Honor Him” and “The Battle” are two of the greatest pieces of movie music of all time; “Honor Him” is noble, yet sad sounding and “The Battle” is pure bombast.
The battle scenes, as you can imagine are some of the best you’ll ever see on film, especially in the opening 15 minutes; they feel very real and you can almost feel every punch, kick and decapitation… of which there are plenty.
Russell Crowe plays Maximus Decimus Meridius to perfection making him vulnerable, sad and yet tough as nails at the same time. You believe that he was a Roman general, even despite not being able to hide his accent. There are little details which make his character so memorable, like him running his hands over the wheat fields and rubbing his hands in the soil, which helps to portray his history as a farmer and lover of the land.
Now I’ve heard a few people say that Joaquin Phoenix wasn’t great in this movie, which is of course a complete lie. He is meant to be a sniveling little wretch, who is creepily in love with his sister. There is nothing noble about him and even his own father describes him as “not a moral man”. He slithers on screen as Commodus and every scene between him and his sister makes your skin scrawl. He’s not meant to be Bane; he’s manipulative and sneaky but not a tough guy. Either way, Phoenix deserved his Oscar nomination and gave a fabulous performance.
Connie Neilson was not only beautiful but a fabulously developed character who believes in the dream of Rome, while hiding her love for Maximus from her crazed brother.
As with every Ridley Scott film, the visuals are breathtaking and it’s like he’s practically recreated Rome, despite the odd ropey bit of CGI. The use of light has always been an important motif in all of his films and he uses it to great effect in Gladiator; the afterlife has never looked so attractive and peaceful.
The sheer attention to detail in creating the sets, costumes and period design are still jaw-dropping even after 12 years.
Overall, Gladiator remains one of my favourite movies of all-time and easily Ridley Scott’s finest hour.