- Gladiator was Ridley Scott’s comeback film in 2000. It had been a long nine years since 1991’s Thelma & Louise. 1492: Conquest of Paradise, White Squall, and G.I. Jane all failed to fully land.
Russell Crowe on the other hand was on the rise and Gladiator was yet another notch on his belt after 1997’s L.A. Confidential and 1999’s The Insider.
- The film was Oliver Reed’s last (he passed away before its completion) and is an important film for Hans Zimmer as well.
- The film opens in Germania in the second century. The in medias res action sequence is exactly how Bond or Spielberg would have opened the film. Some of the strongest photography in the film is during this sequence. Crowe gets his best line (in a film filled with them) here as well with his “What we do in this life echoes an eternity.”
- Gladiator was a financial success – single handedly helping to bring back the action epic or the sword and sandal epic- a revival from the 1950s and 1960s.
Scott brilliantly weaves in Maximus’ (played by Crowe) hand in the wheat field as a nice recurring surrealism formal marker.
- Gladiator also serves as reminder that Joaquin Phoenix (here as Commodus) has been a wonderful actor for a very long time. He is just 26-years old here in 2000 and this the first of his four (and counting) Oscar nominations. Phoenix has these amazing, shadowy raccoon eyes here. His Commodus is petulant, incestuous (poor Lucilla played by Connie Nielsen) and malevolent. Richard Harris (inspired casting as Marcus Aurelius) and Phoenix have a exceptional scene together- “Your faults as a son, is my failure as a father.”
The sun pours in beautifully through the trees at the 41-minute mark. These sections were shot in Surrey—but most of the rest of the film was shot in Morocco.
- The film sort of resets at the 43-minute mark. The resulting film is an Outlaw Josey Wales (family murdered and house burned in the opening credits) revenge film. There is hand to hand combat the rest of the way (the opening set piece is a war action sequence). The action direction from Scott in the Battle of Carthage set piece, in particular, is inspired. His work is clear, crisp, riveting action- even with so many moving pieces (and the cutaways to a mocking Phoenix in the crowd).
- Crowe and Phoenix get the most room to maneuver and this is evidence that both are phenomenal actors- but the older generation looks good here as well. Not only are Reed and Harris both superb- but there is not nearly enough of David Hemmings here for my liking.
- Recommend / Highly Recommend border