Top 100 Movie Review: No. 034 – Gladiator (2000)

Ranked 034 on the IMDb Top 100 Movie List (as at May 2017).
Watched movie during May 2020.

Cast:  Russell Crowe (Maximus), Joaquin Phoenix (Commodus), Connie Nielsen (Lucilla), Oliver Reed (Proximo), Richard Harris (Marcus Aurelius), Derek Jacobi (Gracchus), Djimon Hounsou (Juba) 
Director:  Ridley Scott
My rating: 8.0 / 10

In AD 180, Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) leads the Roman army to victory against the Germanic tribes. Following the victory Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) tells Maximus that his own son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), is unfit to rule, and that he wishes Maximus to succeed him, as regent, to help save Rome, from corruption and to restore the Roman Republic. Later when Commodus is informed of this by his father he kills him.

Commodus proclaims himself the new emperor and asks Maximus for his loyalty, but Maximus refuses suspecting correctly the murder of Aurelius. Maximus is arrested by the Praetorian Guard and is told that he and his family will die. After been taken away to be killed in the wilderness Maximus manages to instead kill his captors, although he is injured.  Maximus rides for his home in Spain, where he finds his home destroyed and his family murdered. Maximus buries his wife and son, then collapses from his injuries. He is found by slavers who believe he is a Roman deserter take him to the city of Zucchabar where he is sold to a gladiator trainer named Proximo (Oliver Reed).

Reluctant at first, Maximus fights in local tournaments and befriends two other gladiators: Juba (Djimon Hounsou), a Numidian; and Hagen, a German. His military skills help him win matches and gain recognition from other gladiators and the crowd. Proximo reveals that he was once a gladiator who was freed by Marcus Aurelius, and advises Maximus that he must “win the crowd” to win his freedom. When Commodus organizes 150 days of games, Proximo takes his gladiators to fight in Rome’s Colosseum.

Disguised by a masked helmet, Maximus debuts in gladiatorial combat in the Colosseum, Maximus unexpectedly leads his side to victory. Commodus enters the Colosseum to offer his congratulations, ordering the disguised Maximus to reveal himself Commodus is shocked that Maximus is alive.  Despite Maximus declaring he will have his vengeance Commodus is compelled by the crowd to let the gladiators live.

Maximus’s next fight is against a legendary undefeated gladiator named Tigris of Gaul. Commodus has arranged for several tigers to be set upon Maximus during the duel; Maximus, however, prevails. Commodus orders Maximus to kill Tigris, but Maximus spares his opponent’s life; he is called “Maximus the Merciful” by the crowd. Angered at this outcome, Commodus taunts Maximus about his family’s deaths, but Maximus turns and walks away knowing to strike Commodus now would lead to failure and his death.

Maximus discovers from Cicero, his ex-orderly, that his former legions remain loyal. Lucilla (Connie Nielsen), Commodus’s sister; Gracchus (Derek Jacobi), an influential senator; and Maximus meet secretly. Maximus will escape Rome, join his soldiers, topple Commodus by force, and hand power back to the Roman Senate.

Commodus learns of the plot when Lucilla’s son, Lucius, innocently hints at the conspiracy. Commodus threatens Lucilla and Lucius, and has the Praetorian Guard arrest Gracchus and attack the gladiators’ barracks. Proximo and his men, including Hagen, sacrifice themselves to enable Maximus to escape. Maximus is captured at the rendezvous with Cicero, where the latter is killed.

In an effort to win back the people’s approval, Commodus challenges Maximus to a duel in the Colosseum. He stabs Maximus before the match to gain an advantage. Despite his injuries, Maximus disarms Commodus, whom the Praetorian Guard refuse to aid. Commodus then produces a hidden knife, which Maximus drives into Commodus’s throat, killing him. Maximus succumbs to his wounds. Before he dies, he asks for political reforms, for his gladiator allies to be freed, and for Senator Gracchus to be reinstated. Maximus’s friends and allies honor him as “a soldier of Rome”, at Lucilla’s behest, and carry his body out of the arena, leaving the dead Commodus behind.

Juba visits the Colosseum at night and buries the figurines of Maximus’s wife and son at the spot where he died. Juba promises to see Maximus again, “but not yet”.

What’s to Like
The amazing fights, the cinematography, the music, the epic scale

What’s not to Like

A fictional story the weaves a little of what most people know about Rome and it’s history in particular the debauchery and the deadly politics in with a fictional trial of grand betrayal.  The Roman society shown is brutal and rarely with honour.  While the movie attempts to highlight this as a fight for democracy over a tyrant the Roman Senate had little to do with the real people of the Roman Empire even if they had more than the Emperor himself. 

Gladiator represents a classic story, someone who loses everything they hold dear and broken, but who finds an inspiration to carry on (in this case revenge at first) and who’s will and skill eventually provides him an opportunity to achieve his goal.  It’s hard to ever believe an Emperor would have take a risk by fighting a Gladiator / warrior, even if he fatally injured him before the fight but it sure is great entertainment.  The drawn out death, as Maximus slowly gets the dagger into Commodus feels very righteous.  While Maximus also dies he has avenged his former Emperor and his family, freed his fellow gladiators and freed Roman for the tyranny of Commodus.

This is one of Russell Crowe’s best performances, definitely the most uplifting and heart pumping.

A very entertaining movie.

Academy Awards

  • Best Picture – Winner
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (Russell Crowe) – Winner
  • Best Costume Design – Winner
  • Best Effects, Visual Effects – Winner
  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Joaquin Phoenix) – nominee
  • Best Director (Ridley Scott) – nominee
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen – nominee
  • Best Cinematography – nominee
  • Best Film Editing – nominee
  • Best Music, Original Score – nominee
  • Best Art Direction-Set Decoration – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
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