The unbeatable Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridias (Russell Crowe) has been named as successor to and by the dying Caesar Marcus Aurelias. His dream is to turn the power over to the Senate and not his power driven son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), who yearns for his dying fathers acceptance. Maximus is a warrior and is reluctant to accept the dying kings last wishes, but agrees, only to discover later that the king was murdered by his own son and his wishes were never realized with anyone. Commodus takes over rule and immediately orders the execution of Maximus who easily escapes and returns home to Spain, only to find his beloved wife and son murdered. In a fit of despair Maximus allows himself to be taken prisoner by Proximo, a former gladiator, and is forced to do battle to survive. In a turn of events, Maximus along with other gladiators is brought to Rome to do battle in the great Coliseum and Maximus finds himself in a position to not only defy the Emperor Commodus, but overthrow the Emperor and make his dear friend Marcus Aurelias’s dream realized. But the path there is a hazardous one at best.
The story of Maximus is incredibly powerful. It depicts the power that inner strength and determination can have in any situation. Maximus is a slave but suddenly becomes more powerful than the Emperor himself. He is so powerful that Commodus cannot even have him murdered. The resolve Maximus has to earn his freedom back and to give a dying friend his last wishes is overwhelming.
The visuals of this film are astounding. Ancient Rome, in her days of glory become fully realized as the Coliseum is restored via CGI. Ridley Scott’s vision, portioning the story almost like a three act play, and exploiting the violence of the time by demonstrating the thrill of the gladiator’s and the vastness of Rome as the most powerful city in the world. The focus of moving the story around Maximus’s simple and determined goal meshes elegantly with the complexity of Commodus and his sister in the back round. The final scene is one of the most powerful movie moments in existence. The visual mixed with the performance of Crowe and Phoenix and the subtle score of Hans Zimmer playing will make your toughest soul burst into tears from this epic journey of betrayal, violence, and pain. And it finally meets it’s end.
This role was written for Russell Crowe and no other. His performance as Maximus is some of the most powerful work you will ever see from an actor onscreen. His nemisis Commodus, the insecure, incestuous, corrupt Emperor is just as engaging as Crowe. Though his character is loathsome, there is almost a sympathy in understanding his motivation and what has driven him to his madness. The belief that his father loved Maximus more than his own son drives Commodus to commit deeds of the most unholy fashion. It is perhaps Joaquin Phoenix’s best role ever. The supporting roles were played with as much dedication as the leads. Connie Neilson, Oliver Reed, and especially Richard Harris as Proximo.
Ratings and Suggestions
Gladiator is rated “R” due to graphic violence and adult themes. It is a film made for those who love Epic stories and amazing action adventure. It is perhaps one of the best Epic stories ever told and earned it’s best Oscar quite deservedly. It will remain a classic for years to come, and will remain one of the greatest films ever in my opinion. Four out of Four stars.