Gladiator review

:. Director: Ridley Scott
:. Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix
:. Running Time: 2:35
:. Year: 2000
:. Country: USA

Majestic and psychological, Gladiator marks the return of a director and a genre to the big screen. While Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Duelists, Alien) fell into oblivion after more than risky choices (GI Jane, White Squall), and given that the "toga and sandal movie" had become nothing more than the object of amusing kitsch, this time he succeeds with a tour de force. By breathing new life to a deposed genre, he is able to revive the flame of his fiery debut and at the same time create a new movie hero onscreen: a gladiator, and in the flesh: Russell Crowe.

Above all, Gladiator is proof. The film shows that Hollywood can still produce quality films if given the means. In effect, the film that benefits from a colossal budget is of course spectacular and luxurious, but all the same privileged with the psychology of its characters. To give depth to the characters, Scott called for a solid cast with the presence of talented actors, a rare occurrence for a big budget film. Finally, a cinematagraphy rich with artisitc touches does more than gove life to the film; it brings an unexpected aesthetic dimension.

Russell Crowe incarnates a glorious roman general chosen by the dying emperor to succede him. The emperor's son (Joaquin Phoenix) covets the throne, and after getting rid of his father he tries to eliminate his troublesome rival who flees.Maximus falls into the hands of slave merchants and becomes a slave whose only goal is the avenge himself against the emperor responsible for the assassination of his wife and son.

While the script is fairly simple, Scott revisits the "toga and sandle" genre by making direct allusions to the films that marked the era. The film is based largely on Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus as well as Conan the Barbarian. In the image of Spartacus, Maximus uses his hero's stature to rally the gladiators and rebel against the the power in place. Just like Conan, Maximus becomes a slave and gladiator whose only goal is to avenge the assassination of his family. And in the theme of vengeance, motor of the spaghetti western genre, there is also a clear reference to the final duel between Maximus and Commodus as we hear the music take Morriconian accents.

Gladiator is above all a grand spectacle. Thanks to a noteworthy budget, the film is able to reflect the splendors of the epoch through decoration, scenery, costumes, and a pushed attention to detail. The filmaker gratifies us with bloody and grandiose fight scenes with a grand sense of movement and an explosif rage exposing the savage side of said "civilized" society. Yet Ridley Scott does not content himself with just projecting an image of the era. He brings another supplementary dimension with arty cinematography and metaphors. The opening scene of the battle is visually electrifying. The use of ash colored filters contrasting with the lively red of blood as well as an epileptic montage creates an impression of unequal fury going combining with an artistic dimension. A result much more compelling than the overestimated opening shot of Saving Private Ryan. Scott returns to his first love, an aesthetic photography that established his reputation. Certain scenes resemble paintings, even ancient engravings that take him to his first film, Duellists, that established the artistic palette of his camera. Finally, the filmmaker inserts surrealist scenes, metaphors that come to bring a depth to the work (a tendance that seems to apply to epic movies of the moment, judging Luc Besson's The Messenger—notably the scenes in the fields). Knowing the beliefs that were anchored in the epochs renders the preceding even more justified.

Another aspect bringing depth to this film is the attention given to the characters. Between action scenes, Scott establishes a fairly slow rhythm, close to the narration that renders the character more human. Each character is the prey of his or her own demons and not limited to a sole dimension, good or bad. Thanks to dialogue and psychological approach, one understands the mechanisms that push them to act, making the movie more convincing. One also notes that, a rarity for such a film, the female character is not limited to being arm jewelry but also knows how to pull strings. This slow rhythm and this dichotomy of the characters is without a doubt reminiscent of Blade Runner.

In order to render the characters more credible and the scenes more psychological, it was necessary to recruit talanted actors and not just big muscles in togas. Russell Crowe was the perfect choice, since on top of being able to carry the film on his gladiator shoulders, he is one of the most talented actors of his generation. After his excellent acting in The Insider (a film that unfortunately went by unnoticed), it's clear that this film will be the springboard for his career and procure him the recognition his deserves. He passes with ease between despair, introspection, and rage, all of which make the film work. Crowe is supported by a solid cast, with Joaquin Phoenix, always perfect in a role of a deranged and deceitful character; Connie Nielson, who moves between an iron fist and sensitivity; to Oliver Reed in his last role as an old circus lion; Richard Harris as a dying emporer, and finally, and Derek Jacobi as a senator.

The film, more than a quality show is the vehicle for a certain message that the director conceals in a scene between two senators during the fights. These two discuss the discuss the cleverness of the emperor—more likely the sister (Connie Nielson)—in amusing the crowds with "entertainment". In offering them a spectacle in the arenas that are the real heart of Rome, he soothes his people and can in this way gain their favor, influence them, lure them, and manipulate them. It's difficult not to perceive a direct allusion to movie screens, the veritible center of our society, and the power that Hollywood and directors exercise over us. And the fact that reality topples over into fiction like current events and that our decisions or ways of life are sometimes influenced by what we see on the screen further confirms this idea. If the emperor symbolizes the filmmaker and Hollywood and the fights are the cinema, then the gladiatior symbolizes the actor—or the star—whose power captivates our society.

Despite some cliches and a conventional script, Gladiator is simply a success that we'd like to see more of in Hollywood, thanks to Ridley Scott's angle on this story. It's this angle that makes this a spectacle of quality, making it stand out from other low class products that Hollywood tosses at us. And the approaching release of Roland Emmerich's The Patriot oddly plays with the same themes and identical scenes, rendering the contrast between Gladiator and the rest of these foul marketing productions even more obvious.

  Fred Thom

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