Take the opulence and magnitude of "Antony and Cleopatra", the grandeur and determination of "Ben Hur" and the savagery of "Braveheart" and you get "Gladiator". This movie is truly that brilliant.
The movie is set in the year 180 A.D. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is finishing the final part of his lifelong struggle to expand the Roman empire and bring peace to the frontiers. In this he is aided by the brilliant General Maximus (Russell Crowe). The film begins with the final battle fought by Maximus' loyal troops. Typical of the movie, there is a lot of brutal blood and gore which ends with the Romans winning. The dying Emperor then reveals to Maximus his plan for turning Rome back into a republic, by handing power over to the Senate. This does not go down well with the Commodus, the Emperor's son, and his sister Lucilla. Lucilla, who is an old flame of Maximus', lives an uneasy life between her own desires and her brother's ambitions.
Things soon change as Commodus kills his father and assumes power. Maximus refuses to help him, for which he is sentenced to death. Maximus escapes and makes his way back home to his wife and son. Unfortunately, Commodus' troops get there before him and brutally kill them. Tired and weak, Maximus is taken as a slave and sold off to a gladiator trainer. Soon, Maximus (now known as the Spaniard) proves his skill by destroying all those he comes up against. In the process, he makes a few friends who, like him, are trying to save their lives.
Meanwhile, Commodus is trying to win the hearts of the Romans by declaring a hundred and fifty days of games at the Colosseum. Maximus and his friends land up there and soon, after winning the crowd over, Maximus reveals his identity. Then follow some superb sequences where Commodus and Maximus square off, while all the time trying to keep their heads above water.
The direction is superb and Ridley Scott manages to evoke brilliant performances from his cast. The settings are perfect and bring to life the Roman era. The cinematography is truly phenomenal, even the grotesque scenes of fighting. This is due to the link-up with Dreamworks pictures, which makes illusion appear real. However, the emotions emanated by the cast are completely real and that's a big reason why this film works.
The actors are brilliant. Crowe puts on a stellar performance as the alternatively tired and revengeful Maximus. He avoids the danger of going overboard and displays emotions which only make him more real. Connie Nielsen is fantastic as the beautiful, troubled Lucilla who tries to keep her brother happy, while saving her son. But the real star is Phoenix, who creates an unforgettable Commodus. Scheming, insecure, troubled, dangerous and paranoid - the man is a walking time-bomb and comparable to Robert de Niro in "Cape Fear".
The movie is aided by an awesome soundtrack and some truly brilliant imagery. All in all, this movie is worth keeping by your side for any day's viewing.This article was first published on 30 Aug 2000.