Thursday, May 25, 2000
Dir: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: David Franzoni, William Nicholson, John Logan
Stars: RUSSELL CROWE, Joaquim Phoenix, Richard Harris, Oliver Reed, Derek Jacobi, Djimon Hounsou, David Schofield, John Shraprel, Tomas Arana, Connie Nielsen.
Metaphorical, allegorical, these are the terms that have been used to describe Gladiator and in every sense there is a lot more going on here than what appears on the surface.
To quote from the movie itself, ‘It is a brutal, cruel and dark world’ albeit with spectacular visual effects and haunting musical score by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard, not to mention some of the cleverest editing techniques ever seen, giving the much hyped ‘gore’ a subliminal edge.
Are we entertained asks the hero? Well, Gladiator cannot leave you anything but entertained. However, are you completely sure about what it is that entertained you? What about those dark, underlying themes? Honour in death, sacrificing for the greater good, the futility of war? Even bad karma is dealt with no less subtly here than the thrust of a Gladiatorial sword into its inevitable opponent.
Kill or be killed, this is the decision facing our hero as he inevitably attempts to work his way back to the top. What of the substance in this? Visually there is plenty but what you see is not necessarily what you get.
It is all very well giving a few meaningful stares but, when elaboration is required, words are strangely lacking, a fact that has not failed to grab the attention of many a critic. Is there a point to dialogue when a sarcastic smile can say a thousand words? After all, what is it if not the universal language of film.
Ultimately, as with the fate of Rome, the fate of this movie lies squarely with its central character’s ability to enthral us. Will we accept violence, in all its forms, while still claiming to follow the path of righteousness? No mean feat for any Hollywood star, but what about an ascending one?
Let us be honest here, to be a successful entertainer these days you don’t need much more than good looks, a flashy suit and a gun. Usually you don’t need much more than an average role.
With ‘Gladiator’ you don’t get any of the above, but what you do get is something to think about. This is exactly what Russell Crowe has given us with his portrayal of the tragic hero Maximus.
Just like becoming the famous Gladiator and receiving adulation from the crowds as he enters the arena, Maximus/Crowe must, to quote from the film once more ‘Win the crowd or go and die with honour’. The outcome is pretty clear-cut.
Box-office hit doesn’t depend on whether you think Gladiator was worth making or not. People will still go to the arena to see who gets killed, that’s entertainment. As for Russell Crowe, it should be glaringly obvious by now. A solid ground if you’re looking for movie star status.