Happy Birthday Maximus! You’re Now 20-Years-Old!
20 years ago, director Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe both released his epic “Gladiator,” which won five Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (Crowe), Best Costume Design, Best Sound, and Best Visual Effects in 2001. So, it’s only fair that to honor its birthday, I would share my review of this movie with you.
The first time I’ve watched this was in 2012 before I left to visit Rome, Italy, and the second time is when I’m celebrating its anniversary release. I’ve forgotten much of it after my first viewing, and rewatching this is a reminder about why it was deemed an epic.
The story, if you move goers recall, involves Crowe as the Hispano-Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridius, who plans to return home to his family after his Roman army wins the Marcomannic War on the Limes Germanicus. The emperor of Rome, Marcus Aurelius (the late Richard Harris), offers him the position as the new ruler of Rome when he dies, instead of his power-hungry son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). That when he smothers his own father to death.
With Commodus as the head honcho, he orders Maximus to be executed, which he escapes successfully, and his men slaughter his family. What’s more is that he gets sold to the gladiator trainer Proximo (Oliver Reed in his final film role) to battle in the Coliseum. He becomes his mentor after seeing his fighting skills, and some trainees Maximus meets include a Numidian tribesman named Juba (Djimon Hounsou) and a Germanic warrior named Hagen (Ralf Moeller).
Maximus: “My wife and son are already waiting for me.”
Juba: “You’ll meet them again, but not yet.”
The visuals of Rome are dazzling, as it was done by replicas and CGI, without neither one overlapping one another. I was convinced I was gazing at Ancient Rome, and not a video game world. It almost reminds me of some epics like “Ben-Hur” or “Cleopatra,” both of which are among the many to be made before computers have taken over the movie industry.
The costumes are also immaculate with all the metal suits in the battle arena. The heroes look like fighters, certainly more realistic than the ones in the dreadful “Ben-Hur” remake. And the actors look fascinating in them.
As Maximus, Crowe delivers the kind of dignity Charlton Heston gave in “Ben-Hur” or Kirk Douglas in “Spartacus” with his balance, words, and strengths. No wonder he won the Oscar for Best Actor in this role. Phoenix also delivers an emotional performance as the bad guy Commodus, while Connie Nielsen possesses some life as his older sister and Maximus’s lover. Harris also has some vulnerability as Marcus Aurelius, and Reed deserves a fond farewell, which he gets profoundly.
“Gladiator” isn’t always accurate in its history lesson of the real-life figures, but it does resonate with movie-goers with Scott’s direction, Crowe’s acting, the screenplay (by David Franzoni, John Logan, and William Nicholson), the visuals, and the fights. Don’t forget they had to fight tigers in the Coliseum. This is one for the ages!