Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: David Franzoni, John Logan, William Nicholson
Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Derek Jacobi, Djimon Hounsou, Richard Harris
Runtime: 155 Minutes
Original UK Release: 2000
Brought into the world at the start of the 21st century, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator impossibly resurrects the sword and sandals film for a new audience.
Borrowing story cues from The Fall of the Roman Empire and Ben-Hur, the screenplay is unsubtle in its character development or narrative course, but it's delivered with such verve and brash intention that its really difficult to fault its desire to entertain – which it does. The shooting of the action sequences at various frame rates with Steadicam use gives a kinetic, in the moment feel and intimacy to the bloody chaos and exploitation of the scenes. Even then, the big set-piece moments of the film are fantastically well mounted and intricate in design.
Scott’s keen eye for lighting and shot composition come hand-in-hand with the glorious representation of the period. The set décor and CGI implementation are seamlessly balanced, and the film genuinely feels huge in scale and approach. Hans Zimmer’s score presides over the whole picture, even though it more of what’s to be expected of him, it’s a gallant sound nonetheless.
Russell Crowe is on his best form her as the husky and morose hero, Maximus Decimus Meridius. While he trundles his way through some puffed up dialogues, he never holds back in his emotional intensity and physical presence. But Joaquin Phoenix might steal the entire film from under him as the delightfully hammy, yet multifaceted, Commodus; an antagonist of worthy and fearful position who rules over his own empire with the fury of a tyrant. It also offers a burly final performance from Oliver Reed, and thankless but required performances from Connie Nielsen and Djimon Hounsou.
Even though it works better as historical fiction than any kind of solid document, Gladiator is a thumping good time and a form of real, ample entertainment.