Oscar Month continues today with yet another historical epic, Gladiator. The Dreamworks/Universal film won five Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor (Russell Crowe), Best Visual Effects, Best Costume Design, and Best Sound Mixing. It was also nominated for an additional seven Oscars including Best Director (Ridley Scott), Best Supporting Actor (Joaquin Phoenix), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Original Screenplay (David Franzoni, John Logan and William Nicholson). Gladiator is the kind of action film that I love. It's dramatic, well-acted, brutal, fast-paced and a whole lot of fun. It gets off to a great start, slows down a little bit and then quickly becomes an awesome movie.
Gladiator tells the story of Maximus (Russell Crowe), a general in the Roman army in the year 180 AD. Maximus is a strong general and has the favor of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris). In fact, Aurelius wants to make Maximus the new leader of Rome and turn the nation into a republic again. Maximus is conflicted on the idea but eventually decides to take the job. However, Aurelius' son Commodus is not a fan of the idea and decides to have Maximus killed. Somehow, Maximus escapes and becomes a gladiator in North Africa, eventually working his way up to Rome to earn his freedom.
Like Braveheart before it, Gladiator is a much more commercial Best Picture winner. However, just as I said with Braveheart, that doesn't mean that Gladiator is not a worthy Best Picture winner. In fact, Gladiator is a great film and one that I admire very much. It features a terrific central performance with a strong supporting cast, amazing battle scenes and a beautiful, glossy look that makes Gladiator a terrific entertainment. It's Hollywood filmmaking at its best.
Gladiator is led by a terrific performance by Russell Crowe. I would compare his performance to Chiwetel Ejiofor's performance in 12 Years A Slave in that you feel the character's passion for survival. The main difference is that Crowe's performance is slightly more angry and vengeful. The supporting cast for this film is also strong. Joaquin Phoenix is a deliciously despicable performance as the antagonist Commodus. He's an evil, deplorable man and Phoenix makes the character come alive. The supporting cast is rounding out by acting veterans like Richard Harris, Oliver Reed and Derek Jacobi, who all give solid performances.
One of my favorite things about Gladiator is how much entertainment value this film brings. It's an exciting, thrilling, edge of your seat action film from start to finish. The action is brutal and thrilling with some of the best hand-to-hand combat scenes ever done. The arena scenes are so exciting and visceral with genuine excitement. There's no predictability in this movie and I was always wondering what would happen next.
The scope is massive and the film obviously takes some inspiration from Roman epics like Spartacus in terms of the film's tone and look. The Roman empire appears real and gritty here, but Rome itself appears to be glossy and beautiful. The art directors and probably even the director himself really did a good job paying homage to those great epic films from the 1950's and 60's.
I do have a couple small problems with Gladiator, but they are so minuscule when you look at the big picture of this film. I will say that it does move slightly fast at times. I felt like the plot progression was a little hurried and it felt like everything was going a little too fast. In addition, there was a brief period where I was a little bored with the movie.
However, Gladiator comes through because it is one of those movies where you really root for the good guys. Sometimes, that's the biggest problem with action movies. You just want to see the bad guys win and you want the good guys to fail. Old-school action flicks like The Untouchables, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Gladiator are not like that. You are rooting for the good guys the whole movie. That's what I love so much about Gladiator. It has a sympathetic hero and a deplorable villain and you can really get behind the hero in his quest.
I was skeptical of Gladiator a little bit during its first hour. I was enjoying it but I didn't really think that it was a "Best Picture Winner". However, Gladiator kills the last two hours of the film with exciting fight scenes, intelligent plotting, good writing and a hero who you can get behind. It's 155 minute runtime is justifiable and it never feels that long. Gladiator is a great example of Hollywood film making and just an all-around great film.
THE FINAL GRADE: A+