Directed by Ridley Scott. With Russell Crowe (Maximus Meridius), Joaquin Phoenix
(Commodus), Oliver Reed (Proximo Palindromos), Richard Harris (Marcus Aurelius), Connie Nielsen
Djimon Hounsou (Juba), Ralf Moeller (Hagen), Derek Jacobi (Gracchus), Spencer
Treat Clark (Lucius), David Hemmings (Cassius), Tomas Arana (Quintus) Tommy
Flanagan (Cicero), Sven-Ole Thorsen (Tiger) David Schofield (Falco), John
Schrapnel (Gaius), et al. (photo copyright: Universal Pictures/Dreamworks).
Get the DVD from DVD bestellen bei Amazon.de, Amazon.com,
The sword-and-sandal film is back. In 1951, there was Quo
Vadis about the Roman General Marcus Vicinius falling in love with a Christian
slave during the time of Emperor Nero's rule. In 1959, Ben Hur, an
Israelite prince (Charlton Heston), wins a chariot race at the end of an epic story
and therefore brings victory for freedom over tyranny - and 11 Oscars for the
film (as many as for Titanic). In 1960 came Spartacus, a Stanley
Kubrick film starring Kirk Douglas, about the slave who was key in a Roman
slave-uprising. A whole series of films around the character of Spartacus
followed. In 1963 followed the monumental, four hour drama Cleopatra,
starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton: a flop. In 1964, The
Fall of the Roman Empire, starring Sophia Loren and Alex Guiness,
was another flop. Not only the Roman Empire fell, but also the genre of the Roman
Gladiator by Ridley
Scott takes up the flame of the genre. It was shot in locations in England (the wood at The Bourne, near
Farnham, has been transformed into the woods on the banks of
the Danube), Morocco and Malta (the Colosseum scenes) with a budget of $100 million.
The film takes place in the year AD 180 when 1/4 of the world's population was
under Roman rule. Gladiator is about a fictitious Roman general, Maximus
Meridius (Russell Crowe), in the service of Emperor
Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris). He fights the barbarians in the woods of the Roman province of
Carnuntum (which does not lie in today's Germany, but in Austria). Crowe, who lives on a 560-acre ranch seven hours
north of Sydney, is experienced with riding horses, and therefore had no problems
with the battle scenes. Marcus Aurelius
was the emperor who fought the most wars in Roman history - despite this fact,
he is remembered as the philosopher. It was his son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix)
who made peace with the "uncivilized" peoples in the north.
The real Commodus wore woman's clothes and kept a harem of 300 women and 300
boys. His reign marks the start of the decline of
the Roman Empire. The Roman emperors
used the arena to control the mob, but Commodus even went a step further and
became the only
emperor to fight in the Colosseum as a gladiator. He was a victim of megalomania (in German:
Cäsarenwahn/Caesar's madness). Finally, he was strangled to death by the
hands of people close to him. In Gladiator, the story is a bit different.
The film centers on the bitter rivalry between
Commodus, the son of the ailing Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and Maximus, his trusted
general. The opening battle scene - over 10 minutes of fierce fighting and
killing - shows General Maximus leading his troops against the
Germans in the woods by the River Danube. Maximus is not only a loyal and
undefeated Spaniard who has never seen Rome, but also a trusted friend and adviser to the ailing Emperor Marcus
Aurelius who prefers him to his own son, Commodus, as heir to the throne. The
emperor, after having spent 17 years of fighting, is tired of the sword and
wants Maximus to re-establish the Republican rule in Rome. Commodus makes a
surprise visit to his father on the battlefield. He comes with his sister
Lucilla (Connie Nielson) - a woman he has more than brotherly feelings for. She
was formerly in love with Maximus who shared her feelings. But
both got married separately and have sons of eight years of age.
Marcus Aurelius tells his son about his plan to make Maximus the new emperor,
Commodus murders his own father. Maximus is to be killed too, but manages to
escape. He rides back to Spain as fast as he can, but as he arrives at home, his
wife and son have already been murdered by Commodus' men. Maximus succumbs
to fatigue and grief and falls asleep. When he wakes up, he has become a prisoner
of a slave merchant and is finally sold to Proximo, a brilliant late Oliver Reed.
The hard-drinking actor died while on location in Malta just weeks before filming
was due to finish. The filmmakers superimposed his likeness on an
body to complete his final scenes. Proximo is a morally bankrupt slave
trader and a Gladiator trainer in the Roman province. He is a formerly famous
Roman gladiator himself who was freed after winning a fight. He advises
Maximus, who first refuses to fight, that if you can win over the spectators to
your cause, you
will live. And if you are great, you will be able to fight in the Colosseum in
Rome - in the presence of Caesar. Commodus ultimately tries to help Maximus,
whose identity he does not know for a long time, to take his revenge on Commodus.
A fight between the emperor and the gladiator finally becomes reality.
Crowe's performance in Gladiator is in the shadow of the one by Joaquin Phoenix
(Commodus) which shows the sexual ambiguity of his character as well as his moral
weaknesses - although, he too, has to pay tribute to some weak lines. Director Ridley Scott
did not give Russell Crowe a
chance to show his intense and subtle acting. Therefore, the character of
Maximus remains pale. Ridley Scott also uses too many bad-taste sunsets. The
screenplay by David Franzoni only partly allows the complex characters to show
all their facets, the lines are often to simplistic, e.g. regarding the relation
between emperor and general, father and son, brother and sister, emperor and
senators, slave trainer and gladiator. The music by Hans Zimmer is pure kitsch.
Interesting is the fact that Ridley
Scott's scene of Commodus' triumphal entry into Rome as the new Caesar is a very
close copy of a documentary film scene from the 1930s by Leni Riefenstahl showing Hitler riding
in his car through masses of German people acclaiming him. Gladiator is
impressive for its battle scenes shown in all their cruelty - and therefore
largely attracts (at least at the cinema where I was) an audience keen on primal
sensations. The actors, the story and the characters could have produced a
masterpiece, but the result of Ridley Scott's work is a movie in which the
action dominates and the characters and the story telling are too superficial,
sometimes ridiculous, despite some great acting here and there. But Gladiator
is never annoying and the special effects let us live in Roman times - at least
for two and a half hours. Gladiator is in more than one respect the Roman equivalent to Titanic.
Get Gladiator on DVD from DVD bestellen bei Amazon.de, Amazon.com,
Director Ridley Scott has had critical and commercial successes
with Blade Runner (his first Hollywood experience), Alien, Black Rain,
Silence of the Lambs and Thelma and Louise, but also some flops
with 1492: Conquest Of Paradise, White Squall and GI Jane.
Ridley Scott is part of a filmmaking dynasty: both his son
Jake and brother Tony are also directors. All three have worked together
television show The Hunger, based on Tony Scott's 1993 film about
A few notes about some actors: Tomas Arana co-starred with Russell in
L.A. Confidential, Joaquin Phoenix starred 1998 in Clay Pigeons, a
film with Ridley Scott as co-producer and Tony Scott as executive-producer.
German Ralf Moeller (Hagen, one of the gladiators) is a former Mr. Universe.
Black actor Djimon Hounsou (Juba), starred in Steven Spielberg's Amistad
for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe. Connie Nielsen (Lucilla) had a part
in The Devil's Advocate and Rushmore.