Ridley Scott's Gladiator is not a perfect film, I would think that the hardiest of fans, of which I'm firmly one, know this deep down. Yet just like Commodus in the film is keen to point out that he himself has other virtues that are worthy, so does Gladiator the film. Enough in fact to make it an everlasting favourite of genre fans and worthy of the Academy Award acknowledgements it received.
In narrative terms the plot and story arc is simplicity supreme, something Scott and Russell Crowe have never shied away from. There has to my knowledge as well, never been a denial of the debt Gladiator owes to Anthony Mann's 1964 Epic, The Fall of the Roman Empire. Some folk seem very irritated by this, which is strange because the makers of Gladiator were not standing up bold as brass to proclaim they were unique with their movie, what they did do was reinvigorate a stagnant genre of film for a new generational audience. And it bloody worked, the influence and interest in all things Roman or historically swashbuckling of film that followed post Gladiator's success is there for all to see.
What we do in life echoes in eternity.
So no originality in story, then. While some of the CGI is hardly "Grade A" stuff, and there's a little over - mugging acting in support ranks as some of the cast struggle to grasp the period setting required, yet the way Gladiator can make the emotionally committed feel - overrides film making irks. Crowe's Maximus is the man men want to be and the man women want to be with. As he runs through the gamut of life's pains and emotionally fortified trials and tribulations, we are with him every step of the way, urging him towards his day of revenge splattered destiny; with Crowe superb in every pained frame, winning the Academy Award for Best Actor that he should have won for The Insider the previous year.
Backing Crowe up is Joaquin Phoenix giving Commodus preening villainy and Connie Nielsen graceful as Lucilla (pitch Nielsen's turn here against that of Diane Kruger's in Troy to see the class difference for historical period playing). Oliver Reed, leaving the mortal coil but leaving behind a spicy two fold performance as Proximo the Gladiator task master. Olly superb in both body and CGI soul. Richard Harris tugging the heart strings, Derek Jacobi classy, David Hemmings also, while Djimon Hounso gives Juba - Maximus right hand man and confidante - a level of character gravitas that's inspiring.
I didn't know man could build such things.
Dialogue is literate and poetic, resplendent with iconic speeches. Action is never far away, but never at the expense of wrought human characterisations. The flaming arrows and blood letting of the Germania conflict kicks things off with pulse raising clarity, and Scott and his team never sag from this standard. The gladiator arena fights are edge of the seat inducing, the recreation for the Battle of Carthage a stunning piece of action sequence construction. And then the finale, the culmination of two men's destinies, no soft soaping from Scott and Crowe, it lands in the heart with a resounding thunderclap. A great swords and sandals movie that tipped its helmet to past masters whilst simultaneously bringing the genre alive again. Bravo Maximus Decimus Meridius. 10/10