What we do in life echoes in eternity
There are some films that are plot driven, there are some films that are character driven and there are some films that are location driven. Every once in a while there is a film that is driven by all three of those elements. Gladiator is one such film. The 2000 Oscar Best Picture Winner, Gladiator is violent but if you can deal with the violence it is an extremely well done film.
The film opens with a battle that pits Rome against the Germanic Tribes at Vindobona. The Roman Army, led by General Maximus Deamus Meridias (Russell Crowe), earns a decisive victory and ends a long Roman War and conquest. A brilliant general, Maximus earns the favor of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris). Though the Emperor already has an heir, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), he does not believe that Commodus is right to rule and the dying man wishes to give power to Maximus in the hopes that he will return power to the Roman Senate. Already bitter that his father favors Maximus over him, the news sends Commodus into a fit of rage and he kills his father before he can tell anybody but Maximus his true wishes.
As Commodus takes the throne, Maximus realizes the truth about the Emperor’s death but Commodus sentences Maximus and his family to death. Betrayed by his friend General Quintus (Tomas Arana), Maximus is unable to tell anybody the truth before he is taken away to be killed. Maximus manages to escape but his wife (Giannina Facio) and son (Giorgio Cantarini) are killed before Maximus can save them. Passing out from exhaustion after burying them, Maximus is picked up by slave traders, bought by Proximo (Oliver Reed) and forced to fight for his life as a gladiator. With nothing to lose, Maximus is a fierce gladiator that slowly wins over the crowd so that Proximo and his gladiators are invited to fight at the Roman Colosseum. Proximo’s gladiators are pitted against a chariot and archer force and though they are expected to die Maximus enlists the help of two gladiators he has befriended, Juba (Djimon Hounsou) and Hagen (Ralf Moller) to ban the gladiators together and defeat the impossible odds.
With this victory Maximus has the crowd in the palm of his hands and finally reveals to Commodus that he is in fact still alive. Obsessed with keeping the crowds approval, Commodus deems Maximus worthy to stay alive. Maximus begins to build a plot to fulfill the Emperor’s dying wish. Learning from his former servant Cicero (Tommy Flanagan) that his army is still loyal to him, Maximus works with Commodus’ sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) and Senator Gracchus (Derek Jacobi) to overthrown Commodus and turn Rome into a Republic.
Every part of this film, from the acting to the locations, can be described in one word: grand. Russell Crowe commands the screen, matched only by Joaquin Phoenix’s earth-shattering performance. The two are both brilliant actors but pitting them against one another makes for some of the most well acted scenes a movie can have. There was a single shot that occurred twice in the film that I thought represented the film perfectly. It is a close up of Maximus’ face. His eyes are closed and it does not look like he is moving but the earth is moving under him. After being betrayed, the world is spinning around Maximus and he is just doing his best to hold on. The films locations brought us from the beautiful Roman countryside to the spectacular sight of the Roman Colosseum. Everything seemed to bigger and grander than the shot before it, leading up to the dramatic and climactic end.
2000 was a great year for films with Chocolat, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich and Traffic all being nominated, Gladiator came out on top. While I loved Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Traffic, I do agree that Gladiator deserved Best Picture. Russell Crowe took home the Oscar for Best Actor and Joaquin Phoenix was robbed of the award for Best Supporting Actor. Gladiator also won Best Visual Effects, Best Costume Design and Best Sound. I give this film an A, new rating system information, but will remind you that this is a very violent film but if you can handle the violence it is a must see.