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Gladiator (2000)

Happy 10th Anniversary to one of the greatest period epic dramas of the 20th century.  Believe me when I say it's simply a coincidence that my scheduled posting of this review happened to be within a day of its 10 year milestone, so when I was asked by a reader to postpone posting one day to commemorate it's release a decade ago I gladly agreed.  Gladiator was my first introduction to Russell Crowe, which is probably the case with most of you, it's a film that will go down as one of the greatest films of all-time (currently ranked #100 on and was responsible for sending the careers of two actors into overdrive.

Russell Crowe is Maximus the famous general of the Roman army.  The victory of one final battle, which solidifies Rome as the most powerful force and grants Maximus the opportunity to retire and return to his family.  But the emperor, Marcus Aurelius, has one last request of him, that upon his death he should go to Rome and be the intermediary of power, that rule might be given back to the people and the Senate.  But once Marcus's son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) learns of his father's plans to decline him title of emperor upon his death, he strangles him and takes his place as Rome's new emperor.

When Maximus is offered a place at Commodus's side, he quickly declines knowing all to well the demise of Marcus was no natural cause, and aware of the evil Commodus is capable of.  But one cannot say no to Commodus without reaping some punishment, and Maximus's punishment is his death, as well as the death of his family.  But he manages to narrowly escape execution, only to learn his family was not as luckily.  Beaten and half dead he is captured by a group of slave traders and sold to a man named Proximo who provides gladiatorial events for the viewing pleasure of the public. Maximus becomes Proximo's biggest seller, and with news of their scheduled events in Rome this becomes a perfect time for Maximus to seek his revenge on Commodus and help save Rome from the pit it has begun to sink into.

After the success of Braveheart in 1995, Gladiator was the first epic film to be worthy of comparison, and after it's release in 2000 a slew of period piece epics soon followed in an attempt to latch onto some of Gladiator's success.  As a film Gladiator is pretty flawless, the only negative thing I can possibly think of is a few scenes where it tends to drag a little (noticed more so in the extended version which really adds nothing to the story), but it's nothing that slows the progression of the film to any large degree.  Russell Crowe is of course brilliant, not only did this film garner him an academy award but it also solidified him as a bankable leading actor and skyrocketed his career to the top.

But another actor Gladiator helped to boost was Joaquin Phoenix.  I think in the midst of Russell's performance and recognition Phoenix gets overlooked.  While he did receive an academy award nomination for his role, Phoenix's portrayal of this vile, selfish character is as important to the film if not more than Russell's.  It's one of the better villain roles I've seen in the last 10 years, and Phoenix not only delivers the role verbally well, but he physically portrays the character brilliantly.  In my opinion he deserved an Oscar as much as Crowe.

Overall, Gladiator is a must see film.  It will go down in history as a classic among the likes of Ben-Hur and Spartacus.  Visually stunning, musically inspiring, and two amazing performances by two outstanding actors, not to mention a wonderful supporting cast.  No mercy is needed for this film, it's a champion all by itself.



  1. no argument here! if you ever get a chance to listen to the commentary done by ridley and russell over the extended version, you must! the narrative they provide is intelligent, witty and full of all sorts of interesting backstories and asides; and you get a clear understanding of why these two powerhouses in the film industry work so well together - they're genuinely fond of one another. they may not always agree with each other, which is part of their incredible dynamic, but as a team, they're pretty much unmatched by any other director/lead actor team.

  2. i always though joaquin phoenix is, in fact, better than husky crowe. but it truly is an incredible film.

    I think in response to becks, lets be honest, scorsese and dicaprio surpass ridley and crowe - 'a good year'? hmmm.


  3. You gave this a 10? I'm shocked! Ok, not really. Phoenix is awesome in the movie, and Crowe just nails the lead part. Of course I also love Djimon Hounsou, more screentime for him would have been nice :P. Perhaps what it does best is blend the mainstream flair for action with the backdrop of intelligent moral, and character driven, plot.

  4. Long live Maximus!! What a coincidence (or not) that I just wrote a lengthy essay on this: LOVE Ben Hur and obviously you know how I feel about this one, but no love for Spartacus from me. It's just a Ben Hur wannabe as Kirk Douglas couldn't get over the fact that he didn't get the part.

    Anyway, there is one scene in the extended version that I think should've been included in the main one, it's the execution scene where Commodus stands in between the two prisoners. That gave me chills! Joaquin, come back to acting, please!!!

  5. I'm also one of those people who think the shinny part of GLADIATOR is the magnificent performance from Joaquin Phoenix. That's the only thing I remember GLADIATOR for even ten years after the premiere.
    I was so shocked that Joaquin didn't get an Oscar that year, that I still often live in illusion that he actually was awarded :)
    It's the role of his life, one of those larger than life performances which you remember forever.

  6. simon - okay, maybe some of the scorcese/ dicaprio pairings have been better than ridley and russell were on 'a good year'; i was generalizing, as i'm partial to the r&r connection. one could also say that the burton/ depp collaborations have produced some good stuff, too.
    but i wouldn't trade ANY of my rid/russ dvds for ANY martin/leo or tim/johnny discs... not a single one.

  7. @simon - eh, I'm not a big Scorsese or DiCaprio fan, and I actually love A Good Year, one of my favorite romantic comedies.

    @rtm - yea that scene was one of the few in the extended cut that added much to the character development.

    @Dezmond - he should have won for Walk the Line as well, but snubbed again.

    @becks - I personally can't think of any Scorsese / DiCaprio pairings that I thought were that great. The only Ridley / Russell one I found particular mediocre was Body of Lies, and guess whose in that... DiCaprio!

  8. i haven't seen any of the scorcese/dicaprio films (that i can think of!), which is why i said 'maybe some were better'; i know a lot of people think they've done some great work. but please note my final paragraph - wouldn't trade any of my r&rs for leo or anyone else.
    well, maybe 'help', but it's not available on dvd... :)

  9. the beatles 'help' - as far as i know it's not available on dvd. 'a hard day's night' is, and i watched it not long ago. the original music video! it astonished me that it really hasn't lost any of its magic in the intervening 45 years.

  10. Just re-saw this last night, a truly great piece of film-making, with great scenes that make your spine tingle one after the other. Excellent review MVP.

  11. @Castor - yes indeed it is the music really helps those spine tingling scenes too. It's not a film I usually re-visit often because I've seen it plenty of times, but whenever I do I'm usually glad I did because it's always enjoyable.

  12. The one thing I'd have to disagree with is the comment with regards to the extended cut. As I do think it helpfully fleshes out what makes Commodus such a major threat to Rome as a whole that needs to be stopped beyond the killing of his dad and Maximus' family (as it is there where you hear about things like how he's selling off the grain reserves to fund the games that could lead to food shortages, how he's having anyone who openly/widely speaks against him thrown into the games as cannon fodder, executes people like his own Praetorians on a paranoid whim, etc) as well as Quintus' eventual turn/redemption. (Aided by the scene where he truly sees Commodus' cruelty and madness first hand, as well as an important encounter between he and Maximus right before his final fight with Commodus) Now these are things I didn't think about when watching the theatrical cut the first time, but they are things that after seeing the extended cut stood out more to me when watching the theatrical cut again afterward. Whatever the case though, it is a great film regardless. With as you said superb performances all around, a compelling story, great trappings, beautiful music, and thrilling action sequences.


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