Gladiator

Stunning, magnificent, overwhelming: ‘Gladiator’ is simply one of the best films ever made – go see it! End of review.

What – still need convincing? Oh, OK then: English director Ridley Scott – already responsible for such masterpieces as ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Alien’ & ‘Thelma & Louise’ – has done it again. In a year that has already produced many great films, (e.g. ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’, ‘American Beauty’, ‘Galaxy Quest’), this in my opinion is the best film of the year; not only that but one of the best of all time – it’s that good!

Recreating the ‘swords & sandals’ genre, in the great tradition of Cecil B. DeMille, ‘Spartacus’ & ‘Ben Hur’, (which gets more than a passing nod in one of the many stunning set pieces), this like a lot of great movies has a plot that is simple but involving – a tale of wrongs done & attempted revenge, the heroic good guy battling against the odds to avenge himself on the evil ruler. In keeping it simple Scott is able to focus on what this film is all about – an action-packed epic, visually stunning & with outstanding performances from an outstanding cast.

From the outset you know this is going to be something special. A Roman legion is in a dark, wet forest (actually in Surrey) preparing for a final battle to quell the last of the resistance of Germanic tribes to the advance of the mighty empire. The resulting battle is wonderfully atmospheric (the ‘hooting’ of the barbarians as they prepare to attack is particularly eerie) & it’s recreation of the Roman war machine in full cry is awesome to behold.

This is filmed on an enormous scale – the sets are breathtaking. Whereas in the past films such as this have had to rely solely on large real sets & ‘a cast of thousands’, Scott has added 21st-Century computer technology & shown us what really can be done with it. As a result the sheer HUGENESS of this movie is awe-inspiring. This is probably as perfect a recreation of ancient Rome as is currently possible, & the sets ooze historical accuracy, no doubt helped by being based on a true story.

Conversely, the action sequences are handled superbly & with close-ups & cuts to interactions between the fighters you also feel you’re right in there in the thick of it. Scott gets this balance just right, & the result is a film with some of the most stunning action sequences you will ever see, & lots of them.

This is one of those movies where everything seems ‘right’ – Scott has once again achieved that rare feat of touching perfection. This is despite the slight inconvenience of Oliver Reed dying during filming & having to be partly replaced by technical wizardry, resulting in a partial rewrite! The cast are all excellent: Reed himself puts in one his best performances as a gladiator manager, & Richard Harris as the ailing Caesar, Joaquim Phoenix as his wonderfully depraved successor, & Connie Nielsen as his sister are all superb. A particularly inspired piece of casting, as a Senator, was Derek Jacobi – whose most famous role, & one of TV’s great performances, was in the title role of the BBC’s groundbreaking ‘I, Claudius’.

The most praise of all however has to be reserved for the film’s star, Russell Crowe, who plays the deposed General Maximus. I realise that I’m not exactly impartial here as Crowe, like me, hails from little old New Zealand – but he is simply magnificent. He eats up the screen with his every appearance, & can be at once tender, terrifying, grief-stricken & commanding. In my opinion he deserves an Oscar. Anyone who’s seen him before – particularly in the excellent & controversial Oz film ‘Romper Stomper’ – will already know what he’s capable of, but he’s here added an extra dimension to his already wide range of skills in that he is obviously a natural as an action hero. If he isn’t already, I think he is set to become Hollywood’s no. 1 action man, leaping into the void created by the advancing years of Schwarzeneggar, Stallone & Willis. And unlike Arnie & Sly, Crowe can also act!

This is a near-perfect cinematic masterpiece: moving, visually stunning, superbly directed, with a great star turn & terrific support, & some of the best action sequences ever seen on film. If you only see one film this year, this has to be it!

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