Worth A Look: 15.09%
Pretty Bad: 4.36%
Total Crap: 4.36%
19 reviews, 734 user ratings
The first time I saw this I loved it, but as time passed and I read some of the more critical reviews I thought that maybe I'd over-rated it. So I went to watch it again, and I came out even more impressed. This film is so much more than just a Big Screen Movie, it truly moved me and made me think as well.Okay, so it's not some cerebral thought-fest. It doesn't make you question your existence or challenge things you hold fundamental, but normally all I'm thinking about during a Blockbuster is how long till the lights go up. Here there are big questions about violence, about the way we entertain ourselves, whether that's through sports or through the movies we watch.
"'Are you not Entertained!?!'"
It does this by putting you right in there. The fight scenes are in your face and bloody. This got a 15 in the UK, and it's pushing that. Real combat is not a detatched, disembodied experience. If that means it's a harrowing experience when you watch it then so be it. This film doesn't glamorise violence, it shows you just how gut wrenching and terrifying it really is. The film itself makes this point after the second African fight, one of the more disturbing conflicts - 'Play the crowd!'. Most films are happy to make violence a kind of fantasy experience, pandering to our desires - who hasn't enjoyed some huge shoot-out or kung-fu battle? Yet this film exposes the truth underneath, and if we crave to be further away from this awesome (in it's traditional sense) killing machine then it has succeeded in it's attempt to shock us out of our pre-conceived ideas of the violence we wish to consume when we watch a film. If not everyone walks out feeling this then I wouldn't blame the film for aiming too high, some people thought Natural Born Killers glamorised serial killers and some thought Trainspotting glamorised Heroin.
Yet what is this thing that our gladiator hero Maximus (Crowe) is fighting for? Rome. Another central theme to the film is its questioning of the conquest of the Roman Empire. The characters ponder what Rome is. Marcus Aurelius (Harris) asks Maximus why he is willing to kill for Rome, and Maximus responds that 'I have seen the outside world and it is a dark and cruel place. Rome is the Light.' (I'm paraphrasing). Later Commodus (Phoenix) asks his sister Lucilla (Nielson) what Rome is, and she says an idea. This opens up questions about colonisation. I've always considered the Roman Empire a good thing - they brought civilisation to Northern Europe. Yet if you had asked me about British colonisation, I would have been far more cautious, I've always considered it ambiguous at best. What's the difference? Its something I'll take away to consider.
But these thoughts are far from your head whilst you're watching it. Despite being all of 154 minutes long, this film flies by. Its pacing keeps you locked in. This is enhanced by the sheer beauty of what's on screen, and a soundtrack that utterly controls you without seeming manipulative. Scott has created his most visually capturing film yet, from a man not known for unappealing sets. Cinematographer John Mathieson has finally made something really worth watching, after a string of flops. This film is so gorgeous, I'd hang it on the wall. And I'm not just wanking off about the CGI here, impressive though they are, every shot is genuinely lush.
As for the soundtrack, it is perfect. Each and every of my emotions was plundered by this expertly crafted piece of work. Hans Zimmer has worked on everything from The Lion King to The Rock via True Romance, but this one is the one for me. Not bad for a guy who made Video Killed the Radio Star. Of course, the magnificence might have more to do with relative Newcomer Lisa Gerrard, who numbers this and the superlative score to The Insider amongst the three movies she's scored (haven't heard the other one, Nadro, anyone know anything?).
The acting is also just plain amazing. Just like everyone says, Crowe is amazing in this. He always manages to let you into his characters head whoever he's playing, and this is no exception. His disgust at his new profession, his love of his family and the late M.A., his burning desire for vengeance, Crowe is well suited to let this man of passion flare. His sheer charisma carries this man into your heart.
It almost seems ridiculous to go through everyone who performed well in this, such is the talent on display, but hell, I'll do it anyway (no groaning at the back). Phoenix plays the quiet madness of Commodus to a tee. Not only does he capture the dark side of a truly depraved and despicable man, but he captures his immense loneliness. Every scene he is in is a terrifying yet excellent look inside this man, yet if I were to pick one it would be the 'busy little bee' one. Part of the scripts strength is its disregard for the traditional Hollywood Blockbuster one dimensional bad guy. In many ways this is as much his film as Maximuses. In a perfect world this would similarly see Phoenix move to take his place on the A-lists with Crowe.
His performance is matched by Nielson. This is certainly a step back to the quality of Rushmore for her rather than the failure of Mission to Mars. She plays a woman torn by conflicting desires, but whose utmost one is the safety of her son Lucius (played well by Spencer Treat Clark, check that 'busy little bee' scene again to see a great example of a kid knowing something's happening but not what). She really excels here.
Respect is also of course due for Reed (damned shame sir), jacobi and Harris, although excellent performances from these guys was pretty much a given. I'd also like to mention Hounsou, who does a nice job playing Juba, the African Gladiator that Maximus befriends, despite having different backgrounds and religions, they find that they share enough beliefs to give each other comfort in the testing times.
Some of the criticism for this movie has gone for the scripting, yet I found it pretty top notch. I did get involved in the lives of the main characters, I was bursting for them to succeed or be deposed. I don't mind admitting that I was close to tears at the end, no doubt egged on by the soundtrack. If there was little time developed to the minor characters, then I feel it was due to the extensive time spent on the main ones. A lot of this story rested on stuff you weren't shown, like the affair between Maximus and Lucilla. I far prefer this to the show everything approach many films take. Each of the minorish characters (like the senators and Proximo) managed to convey a depth to themselves through a nice script and sheer good acting. Also, hey, just too many people died. How long a film do you want?
Again, people have said that this is similar to Braveheart, yet I am mystified by this. Perhaps the first twenty minutes or so are similar, but from then on it's much more like Spartacus. Whilst you might be thinking that that's still plagiarising, the difference is that this, for me, surpasses Spartacus. Whilst there's no "I'm Spartacus" moment, Spartacus was full of deadweight, and for me the last half hour was quite frankly unnecessary. It should have stopped just after said moment when all the blokes in the audience are reduced to blubbing.
And the dream sequences/visions of the afterlife? I liked them. They were a bold move and I think it works. I guess it's just a matter of personal taste. For me they tied up with the movie well, and raised it just a notch. They show Maximuses dreams and aspirations, in a way difficult to otherwise achieve.
I'll admit that this is certainly not a perfect movie. It is a little too similar to what we've seen before. Perhaps the script could have had a bit of work. Although the story and dialogue are good, they don't quite match up to the overall excellence of the movie. But at the end of the day this film is just too darn entertaining, for me it's almost everything I could want out of a 'big' film.Although this is nowhere near my personal favourites, for a blockbuster this is great. It's got soul. Far from a no-brainer action movie, there is a depth and warmth to this that much Hollywood fair is missing. I was taken on an emotional rollercoaster by this, and had one of the best experiences I've had at the pictures in months. What more do you want from your Big Screen movies?
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=1780&reviewer=215
originally posted: 06/28/00 12:42:57