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Ridley Scott's Gladiator mixes the blood and gore of Roman arenas with high tech and distinctive vision.
Thursday, May 4, 2000
The title of director Ridley Scott''s latest example of cinema''s computer-generated visual possibilities telegraphs the spectacle-over-content aspect of the movie. Gladiator is an unapologetic blood-sport romp that challenges you to blink, lest you miss some hyper-fast blood-splattering from Maximus'' (Russell Crowe) vengeful sword. But at two and a half hours in length, the movie demands more time from its audience than necessary for the series of modern sport-style coliseum battles that escalate the story toward the film''s bloody denouement.
The director of such milestone films as Alien, Blade Runner, and Thelma and Louise, sets up the story of Roman military general Maximus, leading thousands of men through fiery, victorious battle on a snowy and partially wooded battlefield. The scene is shot on a par with Saving Private Ryan--only 18 centuries earlier. In lightning fast blurs, soldiers are clobbered by balls of fire, horses are impaled with arrows and human faces are gashed open with swords in a dark misty blue light. Maximus is a super-human warlord hoping to return to the comfort of his placid farm where his wife and son await his return after this last victory for Rome. However, his plans are forever dashed when Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) is murdered by his own jealous son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix, 8MM), after offering the crown to Maximus rather then Commodus. Commodus'' immediate arrest of Maximus backfires as the warrior king escapes but is sold into slavery as a gladiator for fight promoter/instructor Proximo''s (Oliver Reed) band of fighting slaves.
Gladiator is a visually stunning movie that unintentionally satirizes notions of country, honor, politics, and poor oppressed masses as victims of their own predictable nature as spectator puppets. The only political move that Commodus makes once he takes over as Caesar is to distract Rome''s citizens from its social ills of plague and starvation by bringing bloody death matches to the grand coliseum. Emperor Commodus plays directly to the public''s mob mentality and feeds its bloodlust with gory spectacle. That this effort finally works against Commodus by unpredictable circumstance emphasizes the power of violent mass public entertainment (think football, hockey or wrestling) to anesthetize the public mind.
Crowe gives a powerfully physical performance, weakened by a presumably director-sanctioned decision to speak in his native Australian accent. After Crowe''s masterful performance in The Insider, the actor emerges below his own high standard but still high above the curve.
This movie is another view into Ridley Scott''s time warped dystopic vision of society. Rome looks overpopulated--more Blade Runner than Roman empire. The skies harbor menace, and seething storms lend a mythological quality to the blood-and-sand action below.
Gladiator... (* * * )
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring:Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Richard Harris, Oliver Reed
Where: State Theater, Crossroads, Northridge
When: See Movie Times