Starting back in 180 AD, Rome is at the peak of its power, owning a quarter of the world’s population. General Maximus leads his army to victory against Germania, setting him off immediately as a believable warrior of great principle. After this victory, Rome’s near-dying emperor approaches him to say how he’s selected him to become the new emperor of Rome. What I particularly love about Maximus’ character at this point is how he’s clearly not corrupted by politics. He’s loyal to his family, and demonstrates that to the emperor by declining the offer, as his place is on the farm with his wife and son. He shows a very humble heart, one that is in favor of mercy, teamwork, and dying with honor.
It is worth noting how humbly Russell Crowe portrays the Roman general. He doesn’t attempt to win over the audience by proving how cool he is, like a weaker actor would resort to. Instead, Crowe earns your immediate respect through his subtle acts of mercy within each battle, such as the way he rubs dirt into his hands before every fight as an act of honor. Thanks to Crowe’s Oscar-winning performance, Maximus becomes the hero not that the people want, but that the people need.
But for every spectacular role model for Rome, there is one who’s not so good. Commodus, the son of the emperor, was sadly not selected for the throne, due to his proneness to corruption. But he ignores the moral voice of his sister to get what he wants: he kills his father, sells Maximus into slavery, and assumes the role of the emperor himself. During his rule, he ignores the senate, discarding his father’s desire to make Rome a republic nation again. His only priority is to become invincible, making up for the symbol of failure his father has told him he was. Joaquin Phoenix is simply devious as Commodus. He contrasts beautifully against Maximus’ down-to-earth everyman appearance with his perfectly trimmed hair and royal robes, complete with his piercing stare and stubborn thirst for more.
The secondary star of the show would have to be director Ridley Scott’s meticulous choreography of each scene, whether the numerous battles or the cautiously paced talking scenes. Contrary to what you may think or remember of this picture, there is a lot more talking and discussing about Rome’s political power than there are swords and sandals, a turn made all for the better. Within every individual scene, the atmosphere of ancient Rome looks entirely flawless. The computer graphics used to construct the marvelous city blend in surprisingly well for the time, and has aged better than most visual effects made back then.
Yet the greatest endeavor of this courageous picture lies within each meticulous battle in the coliseum. Unlike similar action movies that just throw everything at you without any care as to where anything is within the screen, Ridley Scott directs each battle with such intense clarity that it’s easy to make out who is winning and how badly they are wounded throughout the combat. Even if he gets carried away with the rapid edit cuts and throwing the camera around everywhere, the excitement level never drops.
It’s funny, over the past twenty years, I can only think of a few movies that can appeal to all levels of movie professionalism; from the casual sucker for popcorn entertainment to the philosophical questioners to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Gladly, Gladiator is one of them, as are several other films within Scott’s long career.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!