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From the June 2000
Film Review

Film Review Hotline
5 Stars

Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott interviewed in this issue

STARS: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Derek Jacobi, Richard Harris, Djimon Hounsou
DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott
SCREENPLAY: David H Franzoni, John Logan and William Nicholson
CERTIFICATE: 15 DISTRIBUTOR and Picture copyright: UIP
RUNNING TIME: 2hrs 30mins

Russell Crowe lives by the sword in Gladiator
Maximus entertainment

Corrupt Emperors, ambitious Senators, bloody battles with thousands of extras, and heroic Colosseum combat to tumultuous roars from the crowd – the Roman epic thunders back in splendid and spectacular style with Ridley Scott’s stunning Ben-Hur for the Millennium. The best looking movie Scott has made since Blade Runner (every eye-popping scene is dazzlingly rendered in burnished amber, fire and brimstone), and his most coherently dramatic since Thelma and Louise, Gladiator is going to make Russell Crowe the most popular actor on the planet bar none.

The New Zealand-born star is the rock solid pivot around which Scott’s glorious saga revolves. It’s his utterly believable blood, sweat and tears that gives Scott’s sweeping story of courage and revenge, set against a lavish backdrop reminiscient of Cleopatra, an electrifying magnificence that’s the riveting backbone of this toga-clad Braveheart.

Set in the third century AD, Crowe is Maximus, the most favoured general in the Roman army, who has once again led his legions to victory in Germania as the film opens. Loved like a son by Caesar Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), the dying Emperor wants Maximus to assume the mantle of his power and end the corruption in Rome that has crippled his mighty Empire. But Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), the jealous heir to the throne, kills his father and orders the execution of Maximus and his family before the Emperor’s true request can be carried out.

Barely escaping death, Maximus is forced into slavery and trained as a gladiator by Proximo (Oliver Reed) where his fearless fame in the arena grows legendary. Back in Rome, as the Senate become increasingly uneasy with his unstable rule, Commodus tries to curry favour with the populace by ordering 150 days of games at the Colosseum to take their minds off the real issues plaguing the land. Proximo’s band of gladiators are called up to provide the bloodthirsty entertainment and Maximus arrives in the city intent on avenging the murder of his family and Marcus Aurelius by personally killing the new Emperor.

How Maximus achieves his goal is thrillingly told in true epic classic tradition complete with stunning overhead vistas of ancient Rome (achieved by superb computer graphics), raw brutality in the galvanizing arena action and a chariot race clash so exciting it will erase all memory of the landmark one in Ben-Hur. Scott gets the balance between monumental visuals and emotional depth exactly right. While the huge look of Gladiator will continually blow you away (and the first entry into the Colosseum packs the most tremendous wallop of all), it’s the crackling intensity of the intimate battle of wits between Maximus and Commodus that proves just as overpowering. Their final face-off and its tragic aftermath are some of the most exciting and moving scenes I can remember this side of Titanic.

Each actor brings an enormous amount to the terrific tableaux. Phoenix will finally see his stock rise thanks to a pitch perfect reading of spoilt brat petulance as the quietly devilish Commodus. Connie Nielsen is just right as his sister Lucilla, too terrified to oppose her incest-driven brother yet too scared not to help one-time lover Maximus for her son’s sake. Marvellous support comes from Harris, head Senator Jacobi, Amistad’s Hounsou as Maximus’ slave buddy and the late Oliver Reed in a wonderfully touching turn, completed after his death by digital doctoring. But Gladiator truly belongs to the brilliant Russell Crowe whose carefully modulated, honest performance is completely imposing and incredibly hypnotic.

Bound to be one of this year’s biggest box-office hits and sure to become a film classic in its own right, Gladiator is a triumphant time machine, effortlessly transporting us back to the glory, the political turmoil, the savage cruelty and the sheer visceral stimulation of ancient Rome. Just as they would show their pleasure in true Colosseum tradition, Scott’s majestic masterpiece gets a total thumbs up.

Alan Jones

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Reviews © Visual Imagination Ltd 2000. Not for reproduction.

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