Gladiator (2000)

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 03/28/00 01:21:20

"This is a fat movie experience. An epic in the best way. Crowe goes OFF."
5 stars (Awesome)

You've gotta hand it to the Australian acting industry. They may have to ply their trade with fake American accents, they may have to fight for decent roles, but baby, when they get a chance to show their stuff, they really show some stuff. In Ridely Scott's Gladiator, Russell Crowe somehow manages to upstage an awesome cast in an awesome movie with an awesome budget. If you're thinking to yourself that what I'm getting at here is that Gladiator is a fantastic movie experience, give yourself a cigar.

It'd be so easy for a lead to get lost amongst the good stuff in this Roman epic. Consider the cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Derek Jacobi, Richard Harris, Oliver Reed, Djimon Hounsou - we're talking Oscar territory here. Then there's the production itself - big scenery, massive sets, sprawling countryside and thousands of extras - the money is on the screen. Then there's the trademark Ridley Scott action-packed set pieces. But in the middle of all this fire, brimstone and fury emerges a nuggety little bloke who does "brooding tough guy" like none other in the business. What could have been just a gormless action movie with a big budget is transformed by Crowe's presence into an amazing epic that will unquestionably be looked upon as a movie event.

Rusty is Maximus, a Roman general reknowned for his warrior skills and dedicated to his Emperor (Harris). But when the Emperor's son (Phoenix) kills his father, his first act is to have Maximus 'dealt with'. When Maximus escapes he finds himself sold into slavery, and thus begins a long climb back that will take Maximus from slave to gladiator legend.

If there's a downside to Gladiator it's that Oliver Reed isn't alive to enjoy the fruits of his fine performance. This film would have taken him back to marquee status had he not expired before it's completion. Stronger still is Joaquin Phoenix who completes an unlikely rise from former 'annoying pissant cashing in on his brother's success' to 'damn fine actor in his own right'. Phoenix burns his old wussy rep with a stand-out display that in this company is even more impressive.

But perhaps the most surprising display of matured talent comes from Ridley Scott in the director's chair. We all know he can pull off explosive action, but here he takes it to another level and adds real dramatic substance. It's the progression of Scott from the level of Bruckheimer to the level of Spielberg. This film could so easily have gone the way of the 60's gladiator films and immersed itself in accidental camp, but the combination of cast, story, action and direction combine here to form one massive epic thriller that will have the audience oohing, aahing and catching their breath afterwards.

On the cynical side, the story itself follows the Braveheart formula from start to finish. But hey, if you're going to copy something, it might as well be a film that is loved so much by so many.

Gladiator is a crowd pleaser, an epic, an action film of true quality and ultimately the kind of movie experience that leaves you wondering why all big budget movies aren't this good.

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