Glatiator Review by Susan Granger 3 Stars out of 4 Copyright 2000 Susan Granger Are you not entertained? charismatic Russell Crowe roars scornfully to the cheering crowd in the Roman Colosseum. Certainly there hasn’t been this kind of awesome sword-and-sandals spectacle since Spartacus, Ben-Hur and Cleopatra. Set in 180 A.D., Crowe plays Maximus, a Roman general who promises his aging mentor, Caesar Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) that, as his appointed successor, he will return power to the Senate, thus restoring the Republic.
That infuriates Caesar’s evil, envious son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), who becomes Emperor and orders Maximus’ execution. But Maximus escapes, becomes a slave and learns from an entrepreneur (Oliver Reed) how gladiators can fight their way to freedom and vengeance. That’s when the excitement ignites. For years, Hollywood believed that historical epics were too expensive; now, high-tech computer wizards can digitally revive that classic genre.
Ridley Scott has cleverly recreated a mythic form in defiantly modern terms under the raw, realistic influence of Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan, meaning there’s lots of gruesome, bloody carnage, plus surreal, dreamlike glimpses of Elysium. What’s most impressive is the gloriously detailed world Scott creates on-screen, inhabited by characters whose emotional motivations come from a contemporary mentality. These are real people coping with real problems in a brutal, superheroic setting. But there are weaknesses in David Franzoni’s story – like alluding to an unexplained affair between Maximus and Commodus’s sister (Connie Nielsen) – and the overt, almost comic villainy of Joaquin Phoenix, whose power-hungry demeanor suggests a demented Richard III.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Gladiator is a savage, sweeping, spectacular 9. Thumbs up! Movies and Television.