Release Year: 2000
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: David Franzoni (story & screenplay), John Logan (screenplay), William Nicholson (screenplay)
Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris, Derek Jacobi, Djimon Hounsou, David Schofield, John Shrapnel, Tomas Arana, Ralf Moeller, Spencer, Treat Clark, David Hemmings, Tommy Flanagan, Sven-Ole Thorsen, Omid Djalili
Rating: Won 5 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor (Russell Crowe), Best Costume Design, Best Sound, Best Visual Effects. Nominated for 7 Oscars: Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Joaquin Phoenix), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Score, Best Art Direction. Won 2 Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Original Score. Nominated for 3 Golden Globes: Best Director, Best Actor – Drama (Russell Crowe), Best Supporting Actor (Joaquin Phoenix).
The Roman general Maximus (Russell Crowe) is betrayed by the new emperor Commodus after the death of Marcus Aurelius. His family is murdered, but he escapes death and becomes a gladiator set on avenging his family and honouring the final wish of the old emperor.
Australian born actor Russell Crowe had already made a number of strong films, including Sam Raimi’s The Quick and the Dead (1995), Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential (1998), and Michael Mann’s The Insider (1999), but it was Ridley Scott’s Gladiator that made a star of him. Scott famously handles different genres and setting with equal bravura, but few would hav fought that he could deliver a film as perfect as Gladiator and practically single-handedly revive the otherwise dead and buried swords-and-sandals subgenre. A classic hero to zero and back to hero again, Crowe’s Maximus is a great hero of the sort we rarely see nowadays where heroes are troubled and villains are victimized to give them depth: he is good and noble through and through. A respected general under Marcus Aurelius who is loved by his men but has no ambition beyond returning to his farm, where is wife and son awaits, after his service is ended. He loves his emperor like a father, and the feeling is reciprocated. A emperor’s natural son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), who is not virtuous, feels (and probably is) unloved, so when Maximus is given the tax of taking control until the power can be returned to the Senate and Commodus is told he will not succeed his father as emperor, a tragedy is set in motion. The story that began in Germania, the northern edge of the Roman Empire, moves now to the southern edge where he falls in the hands of a slave owner and former gladiator – a great final performance from Oliver Reed (The Brood, 1979). But it is when Maximus arrives in a beautifully realised ancient Rome the story finds its dramatic and emotional heart. Here Maximus wins the hearts of the crowd, and finally comes face to face with the vain and corrupt Commodus. Scott is a master director and there is as always not a foot put wrong; the Roman Empire at 180 A.D. feels real, but although several character are historic it should be noted that the story is entirely fictitious. On top of that Gladiator is simply a great story told through great character and carried but strong performances all around, from Crowe, to Richard Harris (Unforgiven, 1992) as Marcus Aurelius, to Connie Nielsen (One Hour Photo, 2002) as Commodus’s sister, and last but not least Phoenix (The Village, 2004) who is truly great as Commodus. An instant classic.
Oliver Reed died three weeks before principal photography ended. Since his role was considered a key character the movie’s ensure coverage would have allowed the role to be recast and his scenes reshot. However, the cast and crew were exhausted from a tough shooting and Ridley Scott did not want to cut Reed from the film. So with a rewrite of the script, and the use of CGI and body doubles, his character Proximo was given a plausible resolution.
Picture Copyright: Flex Medie A/S