Review No. 560
Tell me, what made you think I was not entertained, let alone moved?
Director — Ridley Scott
Producers — Douglas Wick, David Franzoni, Branko Lustig
Screenplay — Mr. Franzoni, John Logan & William Nicholson
Story — Mr. Franzoni
Russell Crowe — Maximus Decimus Meridius
Jaoquin Phoenix — Commodus
Connie Nielsen — Lucilla
Oliver Reed — Antonius Proximo
Derek Jacobi — Senator Gracchus
Djimon Hounsou — Juba
Ralf Möller — Hagen
Richard Harris — Marcus Aurelius
Distributor — DreamWorks Pictures & Universal Pictures
Release Date — May 5, 2000
Language — English
Country — USA & United Kingdom
Running Time — 155 minutes (director’s cut: 164 minutes)
MPAA Rating — R (director’s cut: unrated)
MPAA Description — intense, graphic combat
GLADIATOR WAS WATCHED ON AUGUST 5, 2013.
There is a so-called “Oscar Curse” that has been omnipresent at least since the 1990s, where the movie gods find it righteous to exile all (or most) the goodness out of of an Academy Award winner’s career. (For more, see Al Pacino, Queen Latifah, and Cuba Gooding, Jr.) Ridley Scott suffered this newbonic plague in 1991, after a simple nomination for his Thelma & Louise. Nine years later, Scott is respectable again with Gladiator. That nomination for Best Director led to the two most revoltingly violent movies I’ve ever seen: Hannibal in February of 2001, followed by Black Hawk Down that very December. Let’s just say, this was truly the “Oscar Curse,” and a well-deserved “Oscar Curse.”
Gladiator, as its name implies, is essentially brutal killing after brutal killing. It’s not impossible to watch, however, due to Russell Crowe’s riveting performance. You could mute his dialogue to Hans Zimmer’s score and he’d be just as effective; there’s a certain gravity in his voice that is so thinly separated from monotone, yet so drastically different. His performance makes for an epic finale. And we truly care about his character, the fictional(!) character Maximus. Even as an animal-lover, it’s much less painful to watch a tiger suffer euthanasia in the dead center of the Colosseum, than to witness any point in the trouble Maximus goes through. He’s loyal to Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), but when Marcus’s son (Joaquin Phoenix) gets away with patricide, he takes the throne and, indirectly, forces Maximus into slavery. Between Crowe and Phoenix, there’s an emotional level that’s reached, foreshadowing the poignancy of the conclusion before the one-hour mark.
Let’s talk slightly past the one-hour mark. The movie is far from forgettable, if simply for its one, oft-quoted line: “Are you not entertained?” Scenes like this did want more of Russell Crowe, and in some scenes of the nature, from other movies, my mind goes into full Gregorian chant. It didn’t with Gladiator, but I feel that there is a certain praise that lies beneath, perhaps in the “director’s cut.” The editing, perhaps, wouldn’t be so rushed and VCR-like in Scott’s “director’s cut.” Although I do applaud Pietro Scalia for his hyperaggressive effect on the moments at the Colosseum, the transitions rely on a simple cut, if not an epileptic montage of dizzying, sped-up camera panning. Save for the tense climactic moments, which make up the last half hour, there’s a growingly noticeable clash between Ridley Scott’s two most highly valued genres: drama and action. Gladiator wants to convey historical epics just as Stanley Kubrick did with his Spartacus (1960). Although the last half hour is worth undoubted applause for this, that’s merely a half hour. Admittedly, the first two hours felt episodic, with a noticeable running time. They’re also gripping, so there’s quite a lot more to be felt in that time.