Gladiator is one of the most compelling stories of grit, determination and redemption ever seen in theaters. It chronicles the life and death of Maximus Meridius as he is forced through the Roman and Persian countryside as a slave and warrior. It shows his fall from grace with the emperor, his decline into servitude, and his rise back to prominence. Through superior plot, superb actors and visually stunning action, Gladiator tells a story of betrayal, loss and suffering, and atonement.
The first mark of a great action film is, who would have guessed, great action. The most frustrating and counterproductive scheme in cinematography is when directors shake the camera to simulate the kinetic energy of a choreographed fight. If the fight has energy, that will be transparent to the viewer. Gladiator crisply delivers visually appealing action in clear, viewer friendly angles. And despite the beautiful cinematography, Gladiator’s fight scenes excel at realistic depictions of bloody warfare and hand to hand combat. It’s fight scenes combine the depravity of Maximus’ situation with grueling carnal violence to reveal his desperation. Ultimately, the action acts as a catalyst towards Maximus’ redemption.
Great actors sew their this movie together. Russell Crowe embodies humility as he eschews compliments and reservedly assumes the responsibility that the king places on his shoulders. His emotions range from brooding, when he finds the king slain, to grief stricken at the loss of his wife and son, to apathetic, morose and hopeless at his situation. In addition to Crowe’s full range of emotions, Djimon Hounsou inserts compassion and a subtle uncompromising optimism that balances Maximus’ solace and desolation. Finally, among many contributing smaller characters, Gladiator has a great villain. Joaquin Phoenix plays the complete antithesis of the hero. He is simultaneously cowardly and opportunistic. He combines a full disregard of loyalty with the ambition for the position of those that he should be loyal to. Phoenix exerts all the characteristics that makes villains deplorable and effective as movie characters. His avarice turns into the murder of his father and he follows his need of power and acceptance with a determination and complete blood thirst that spares no one. The development of these characters pull the storyline of Gladiator together.
And, that storyline is the most compelling aspect of Gladiator. How apropos is the statement by the emperor, “the general that became a slave, the slave that became a gladiator, the gladiator that defied an emperor.” Gladiator is a story of loss, regret, and redemption. Maximus falls from authority into servitude. A general in the former emperor’s army unwillingly survives as entertainment for the common man, and maims his way into an audience with the emperor, whom he finds is responsible for his predicament. He faces the man that is responsible for his loss of family, title, and his former life. The plot comes full circle and the Maximus fights one more battle for his redemption.
Gladiator excels in all the things that are most important in recounting a story. There is great plot, character development and acting throughout the movie. And, as a whole it stands as one of the best movies we’ve ever seen.