ladiator 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
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
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.