Gladiator is a swords and sandals movie about revenge. Plain and simple. You killed my family, now I’m going to kill you. Director Ridley Scott (“Kingdom of Heaven”) has a very good handle on the action scenes as well as the quiet, conspiracy scenes that I do not particularly care for. Russell Crowe (“The Insider”) is very good as the invincible Maximus, a General who falls from grace and is sold into slavery, thus becoming the gladiator of the title.
Crowe gives his character soul and goes from invincible to beaten to invincible all over again with certainty and conviction. The same can’t be said for Crowe’s nemesis, Commodus. As played by Joaquin Phoenix (“Signs”), the boy Emperor is a sniveling little coward who covets his sister Connie Nielsen (“The Devil’s Advocate”) for other reasons besides sibling affection. After masterminding Maximus’ fall, Commodus sentences Maximus’ family to death and orders Maximus’ estate scorched, all out of petty jealousy. The two men immediately become blood enemies.
And this is where the movie falters the most. We are asked to believe that the invincible Maximus must overcome a sniveling little punk like Commodus? There is no contest. Maximus is the better warrior and the better strategist. Because of this great disparity between the two men, the ending, which involves a duel between Maximus and Commodus in the Rome Coliseum, is anti-climactic. Even Ridley Scott can’t save a finale that simply reeks of inevitability, which makes the film’s dark ending, involving a major character’s death, something of a cheat.
And then there is Gladiator’s other disappointment — its laborious indulgence on Roman politics. The movie spends more than half of its running time with characters of every stripe plotting against each other and making plans for their plot, but in the end, those plots all come to the same end — nowhere. Too many whispers in dark corridors and too many plot, reverse-plot, counter-plot, counter-counter-plot, and how does the movie end? With a grudge match between Maximus and Commodus. All those endless hours of plotting, for nothing! If the endless conversations and plotting had been cut, the movie would run just under 2 hours (which is a more appropriate running length, in my opinion).
Gladiator is by no means a terrible movie. It’s not bad in the sense of say, The Postman, which is now the mark by which all bad Hollywood movies are measured. Gladiator is a good movie with very good action scenes. But in an effort to make a movie with an “epic” feel the filmmakers went for a long screen time padded with conspiracy nonsense that adds nothing to the movie. Cut out the endless talks and plotting and the movie would be better paced and have a much greater sense of urgency.
As it stands, those with light bladders will certainly enjoy this movie, since they will have plenty of opportunities to run to the bathroom during the many “talking heads” segments that pads out the down time between exciting gladiator matches.
Ridley Scott (director) / David H. Franzoni, John Logan, William Nicholson (screenplay)
CAST: Russell Crowe …. Maximus
Joaquin Phoe Nix …. Emperor Commodus
Connie Nielsen …. Lucilla
Oliver Reed …. Proximo