Friday, March 27, 2015

Gladiator (Best Picture 2000)

I recently saw a great film about a man in Ancient Rome who is sold into slavery, forced to fight against the tyranny and power of Rome, and who eventually wins his freedom by dying. It was called Spartacus. Oh, and I also saw the Best Picture of 2000, called Gladiator. 

Okay, I guess it you wait around long enough everything old is new again. Hollywood hadn't made an Ancient Rome film in a long while, so here, forty years after Spartacus, we get Gladiator. And it is not a bad film. Long and ponderous, and silly, sure, but not out-right bad.

In 180 AD General Maximus is commanding the Roman Legion against the Germanic Tribes. His group defeats them, and the Emperor (Caesar Marcus) himself comes to review the troops. During his visit he tells Maximus that instead of his true son, Commadus, Caesar intends to name Maximus the new ruler. Caesar requests that Maximus, who does not want political power, return to Rome and clean up the Senate, making Rome less a dictatorship and more of a democracy. Before Caesar can announce his intentions, however, he is murdered by his son, who then claims power. Maximus suspects him, so Commodus orders him put to death. He escapes, of course, but ends up a slave fighting in the gladiator games. With the help of his friend the African he fights his way back to life and is eventually brought to Rome, where he meets the new Caesar. Caesar's sister, Lucilla, wants to dethrone her creepy, evil brother, and a complex plot is put into place to overthrow him. It all ends in the Colosseum, where a new Caesar is named. And the crowd goes wild, which seems odd, since they are all witnesses to a revolution.

The main thing about this film is that Russell Crowe is in almost every scene. He is the anchor of the whole story, which is a good thing because he is always entertaining.  He is excellent, not only in the early "weary warrior" scenes, but also later as he burns to get his revenge. His character never wants to be wherever it is he ends up (at war, enslaved, in Rome, etc) so the far-away look in his eyes makes the audience feel his loneliness and determination. As long as he is on screen you can't help but be interested in what is going on. Crowe won Best Actor for his role.

Unfortunately, this isn't true of the rest of the supporting cast. Richard Harris brings a strong sense of nobility to his roll as Caesar Marcus, but unfortunately he is killed off early in the film. Jacquin Phoenix is simply crazy evil as Commodus, and although he is a central figure in the story you dread seeing him on screen because you don't know what he is going to a bad way. Oliver Reed plays the gladiator stable-master, but he is so full of macho bravado that it's hard to take him seriously. Connie Nielsen plays Lucilla, the daughter of the old Caesar and sister of the new Caesar. Her character is nothing more than window-dressing during the first half of the film. We don't know just by watching her what she is thinking or what her motivations are, and she doesn't have a chance to tell us. Once it is established that she is secretly afraid and repulsed by her brother, the gravity of her role becomes much more clear. But by that point the melodrama is in full swing, and she has little left to do but cry and stare. And lastly, Djimon Hounsou plays Maximus' best friend in the gladiator world, but the script-writer never even gave him a name. That should be evidence enough to tell you how badly this film is written.

The film itself is in badly lit. The extended first scene where the Roman Legion battles the Germanic Tribe is so dark that it's hard to tell what is going on. Also, the battle is filmed via hand-held cameras, making the action wobbly and hard to follow. And of course, there are plenty of slow-motion attack scenes. Blah. Plus a dog, who gets a few choice close-ups and then is never seen again. The early, low-cost gladiator matches are well-staged, and are obviously not computer-graphics. These are real people on a real set. This is the best part of the film. However, by the time the entourage gets to Rome, the whole city is one big CG. And the tigers in the ring look awfully fake. Anybody think this was all green screened? Then instead of being dark, the action is dusty. Ridley Scott, the Director, seems to want to get as close to the action as possible, but an extreme close-up is a nose, not a face. "Too close, a little too close." And my last comment/complaint....if the Colosseum is supposed to be as huge as it is shown here, how in the world do the people hear the announcements of the narrator, let alone the conversations between Maximus and Caesar Commodus? The crowd reacts as if they can hear what is being said, but the actors are not yelling loudly and there is no sound system in place.

Although Gladiator won Best Picture and Best Actor, it did not win Best Director for Ridley Scott or Best Screenplay. I think  you can tell what kind of film it is by its pedigree....if this type of action film entertains you, you will enjoy Gladiator. If not, then you won't.

*Academy Award Best Picture of 2000*
Produced by Douglas Wick, David Franzoni, and Branko Lustig
Directed by Ridley Scott
Screenplay by David Franzoni, John Logan, & William Nicholson

The film sure looks good, doesn't it?

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Erin Brockovich
Oddly enough, I have not seen any of these films except Erin Brockovich. None of them sounded interesting to me except Julia Roberts' Academy Award winner as the lady lawyer who goes up against Big Business. In fact, I didn't see Gladiator until just a few years ago, either. Steven Soderbergh won Best Director for Traffic. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won Best Foreign Language Film. And Billy Elliot was not nominated, but was my favorite film of the year.

No comments:

Post a Comment