Reinventing the sword-and-sandal genre for a new generation, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator is a monumental achievement that, like so many other hugely successful films of the time, spawned a host of imitators that only contained a brief flash of what made the original so eclectic and satisfying. The modern day historical epic to end all epics, Gladiator is an iconic modern film that set the standard for so many films to follow, both in its wake and in its form.
The film alternates between scenes of intense action, with a sharpened shutter speed to emphasize the kinetic motion taking place, and scenes of intensely personal drama, with Maximus and his fellow gladiators as well as Commodus and his twisted intentions both toward his continued rule and toward his sister Lucilla. The film contains so much that it’s oddly hard to notice how plodding the pace is at times, but this is quickly extinguished when the action comes flying through the screen. This is either a complement or a concern, and even I am not sure to which it really is. Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix deliver star-making performances in their roles as the protagonist and antagonist respectively, as does the somewhat lesser-known and regarded Djimon Hounsou as Maximus’ gladiator friend Juba; each has their scenes and characterizations that makes them notable and memorable. The film also has one of the most memorable death sequences committed to celluloid, and I continue to watch it gladly even having seen it several times already.
If you haven’t seen Gladiator, you’re missing out on a truly great spectacle, which is really all the film has to offer, but it has so much of it to offer that it becomes a whole product worthy of note and worth your time to see. There’s a lot going for this film, so it can be easy to overlook the sometimes meager plot development and predictably straightforward narrative and screenplay, but as I said, this is easy to overlook. Winner of five Oscars, including Best Picture, Gladiator is an experience to be had, truly, and you certainly should have it.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10