Wednesday, May 23, 2012

#646. Gladiator (2000)

Directed By: Ridley Scott

Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen

Tag line: "A general who became a slave. A slave who became a gladiator. A gladiator who defied an emperor."

Trivia:  Antonio Banderas was also considered for the role of Maximus

The Roman Empire was one of the mightiest civilizations the world has ever known, but its foundation was stained with the blood of millions. As its detractors have pointed out, Ridley Scott's Gladiator is dark, violent and vicious; David Edelstein of Slate wrote that the movie's "Grim sanctimony and drenching, Dolby-ized dismemberments left me appalled". Yet no film about Imperial Rome would have been accurate without copious amounts of bloodshed.

It’s the height of the Empire, and General Maximus (Russell Crowe) is the most popular military leader in the Roman army. Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) looks upon Maximus as a son, and has chosen him to be his successor. When the Emperor’s actual son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), hears of his father’s plans for the succession, he murders Marcus and sentences Maximus to death. 

Maximus escapes the executioner and rushes home, only to find he is too late to save his wife (Giannina Facio) and child (Giorgio Cantarini), who were also condemned by the new Emperor. His spirit shattered, Maximus is taken captive by a passing slave trader and sold to Proximo (Oliver Reed), who trains gladiators for the arena. A skilled swordsman, Maximus quickly becomes the most powerful gladiator in all of Rome, yet his triumphs are fueled not by a lust for glory, but a desire to exact revenge on the man who destroyed his former life.

In speaking of the look of the film, Production Designer Arthur Max said, “We tried to bring... a sense of the grandeur of the Roman Empire, and at the same time its corruption and its decay”. As a result, Gladiator is simultaneously brutal and beautiful, awe-inspiring in its magnificence, yet harsh and violent in its execution. The city of Rome, awash in brilliantly polished marble, houses artistic and architectural wonders the likes of which the world has not seen since. These depictions of the splendor of Rome, its statues, temples, and the ever-impressive Coliseum, are amazing. 

Before Gladiator reveals the spectacle, however, we experience the brutality that defined this era of history. The opening scene, a battle between Maximus’ highly trained legions and a barbarian Germanic tribe, takes place amidst the muck and filth of Vindobona, with limbs and severed heads littering the ground. The Roman Empire was a civilization of extremes, and Gladiator superbly weaves them together.

While Gladiator is primarily fiction, it's story is at least partially based on fact. There was an Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and his son, Commodus, did succeed him. History tells us the real Commodus ascended to the Imperial throne in 180 A.D. at the very young age of 18. Throughout his twelve-year reign, Commodus saw several attempts on his life, one of which was initiated by his sister, Lucilla (played in this movie by Connie Nielson), whom he promptly executed. 

Towards the end of his dozen years as Emperor, Commodus started to believe he was a God, and ordered statues built that placed his head on the body of Hercules. He further shocked the Senate and aristocracy of Rome by personally taking part in Gladiator contests. Dressed as Hercules, Commodus would slaughter exotic animals, then stroll around the arena with their severed heads, taunting the Senators seated nearby with promises they would be the next to feel the sting of his sword. 

Commodus was finally assassinated on Dec. 31, 192 A.D., first by poison and, when he vomited that up in the night, by strangulation. Buried immediately in secret, an angry Senate called for Commodus’ body to be exhumed, tied to a chariot, and dragged through the streets like that of a common criminal.

Ridley Scott's Gladiator is certainly grisly, but look at the history it is recreating. Far from being an over-the-top depiction of violence, I’d say Scott and his crew just about nailed it.


James Robert Smith said...

Another overrated film. I could not understand the praise it got.

CpT GoThMcLaD said...

I liked it!! One of Crowes best right alongside Romper Stomper

Starshiptrooper said...

Great movie