Title: Gladiator (2000)
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Djimon Hounsou, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed and Richard Harris
Maximus (Crowe), a general in the Roman army is beloved by the Emperor (Harris) and wins many battles for him on lengthy campaigns. The Emperor chooses Maximus as his successor which angers his son Commodus (Phoenix), who has been overlooked by his father. After Commodus kills his father, he orders the death of Maximus and his family. He escapes, but his family do not. He is injured and is picked up by a slave driver, eventually ending up with Prospero (Reed), who intends to use him as a gladiator. At first he fights just to survive, but then he realises that he may come into closer contact with the Emperor if he does well. He reveals himself to Commodus, who is distraught that Maximus is still alive. He plots his downfall, but Maximus has the help of Lucilla (Nielsen) and the powerful senators, who do not believe in Commodus.
Crowe won Best Actor at the Oscars for his performance, which was aided heavily by a fabulous character and some wonderful lines of dialogue (“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius…”). He is surrounded with searing talent on all sides, which made him look even better. Joaquin Phoenix was a revelation as the caddish and scheming Commodus, who you just love to hate. He does summon up some sympathy however over his father spurning him, mainly thanks to his wonderful acting skills. Youth was married with experience as Oliver Reed and Richard Harris entered monumental performances. It was Reed’s film screen role as he died during filming. His death necessitated the recreation of his face through CGI, which cost the princely sum of three million! Harris, also in the twilight of his career, entered a highly lauded performance, as the aging Marcus Aurelius. Although his screen time is brief, he leaves a huge mark on the film.
Everything about Gladiator screams quality and it reinvigorated the ‘swords and sandals’ genre in a huge way. The set design is sumptuous and was highly economical as Scott explains on his DVD commentary (they re-dressed the same sets several times to create the illusion of multiple areas). Coupled with the top-notch CGI, it made for a visual treat. The films score by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard was astonishing and became a true classic (Unfortunately, it lost out to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at the Oscars).
Gladiator won five Oscars, including Best Picture, but Scott lost out in the Best Director category to Steven Soderbergh for Traffic. Since its release sixteen years ago Gladiator has left a lasting impression on the world of film. No film of its ilk has even come close to matching it since, and it more than lives up to the classic films of its genre from the fifties and sixties. A true modern classic.