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Russell Crowe  Russell Crowe  Djimon Hounson, Russell Crowe

An epic effort
Russell Crowe, Ridley Scott and an army
of tech wizards recreate ancient Rome in a terrific thriller

"Gladiator"

Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla

(Click on the images to see larger version and credits.)

Once upon a time, Hollywood churned out a dizzying cornucopia of period epics, some even involving historical figures. The scale was always grand and the cliché "a cast of thousands" was sometimes true.

Those films became exceedingly expensive to make and all but disappeared from multiplex screens. Now, thanks to the miracle of CGI (computer generated images), it is possible to simulate a cast of thousands and flashy sets. The epic scale of such classics as "Lawrence of Arabia," "The Bridge Over the River Kwai" and "Spartacus" can be revisited, if not duplicated - and maybe even exceeded.

Hopefully, such new epics will be as interesting and as well-done as "Gladiator."

Notes on an actor

By Dr Gone

There's a lot to like about "Gladiator," but best of all is the performance of the great Russell Crowe.

He invests every role he plays with power and integrity, making his characters completely believable. Even as the evil SID 6.7 in "Virtuousity," audiences believed he would do capricious and terrible harm on a whim. In "L.A. Confidential," his Bud White was a powerful good heart in a powerful vicious body, and the reason the film worked.

In "Gladiator," Crowe's General Maximus is a man of integrity, power and love. He follows his Caesar -- Marcus Aurelius, played by Richard Harris -- with open honesty and affection, and complete loyalty. He inspires the same following from his own troops and friends.

As in "L.A. Confidential," the entire film succeeds because of Crowe's performance.

Carlos deV calls "Gladiator" Crowe's "coming out into major stardom," and I think he's right to say so. Crowe has had many fans in the past, myself included, but with "Gladiator" he has women young and old panting and drooling, and that means box-office gold, which means more Russell Crowe movies to come.

This is great for all of us, because if he doesn't die early from lung cancer -- he's 36, and started smoking when he was 10 -- we'll get to enjoy many more powerful, believable performances from him.

Russell Crowe, fresh off his Oscar-nominated performance in "The Insider," stars as Maximus, a talented general who is deeply loyal to the aging emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris). Aurelius knows he is dying, and is preparing to pass on the authority of the mighty Roman empire. His son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), believing that the mantle will be passed to him, is shocked and dismayed that Aurelius is planning to name Maximus as heir. A good son who wants nothing more than his father's love -- well, that and the Roman Empire at his beck and call -- he shows his support by murdering dear old dad. He then orders Maximus executed, and crucifies Maximus' wife and son -- then burns them alive for good measure.

Maximus escapes his execution, but is captured at his burned-out farm and sold into slavery. An ex-gladiator named Proximo (the late Oliver Reed in his final role), who trains him for stardom in the arena. Eventually, Maximus fights in the Colosseum in Rome, where the new emperor, Commodus, isn't happy to see him alive. Commodus makes immediate plans for Maximus' messy and hasty demise.

Connie NielsenCompounding the brew is a plot involving Commodus' sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) who once had a thing with Maximus, and various and sundry memters of the Senate and Legion, all with their own agendas.

Basically, "Gladiator" is one big fight scene punctuated by soliliquies and an occasional scene of furtive plotting. It's a bit on the long side, and the climactic fight scene which pits the emperor vs. Maximus in the Colosseum pushes suspension of disbelief to the utter limit. I mean, I know the guy is an arrogant, warped megalomaniac, but don't you think he'd have taken a lot more precautions before getting into a fight with a trained killer?

That said, the scope of "Gladiator" is stunning. A combination of sets and CGI bring ancient Rome to life. If you've seen the Colosseum in Rome, you can even more appreciate the movie version ... it's pretty true to life.

For Crowe, this is his coming-out into major stardom. He's become one of Hollywood's leading men in a short amount of time. Here, he is a smouldering presence that keeps you riveted from moment one on the screen. He gets some terrific support from Phoenix (who is almost sympathetic as the extremely twisted emperor), Derek Jakobi as a non-corrupt senator, Djimon ("Amistad") Honsou as a fellow gladiator, and Harris as the elderly emperor. Still, it's Crowe you'll remember.

It's not the kind of role that often gets Oscar nods, but it is the kind of performance that elevates actors into Stars.

There are some flaws in the brightly polished armor here, but it is a great popcorn movie that may not be for the whole family - excessive gore might turn off the kiddies and the squeamish - but is definitely for those who like their entertainment on a grand scale.

Theater or Video? Although it would probably look best on a screen the size of the Roman Colosseum, settle for a trip to your local movie palace.
DVD at Amazon..
VHS at Amazon.

See cast, credit and other details about "Gladiator" at Internet Movie Data Base.