Gladiator (2000)

GLADIATOR gets an "A" for effort, I suppose, despite being one of 
those movies that makes you never want to watch another movie.  
Ridley Scott directs Russell Crowe in this talky, second-century 
actioner about a Roman general-turned-slave-turned-gladiator, an 
amoral young emperor (Joaquin Phoenix), and the lengthy pissing 
contest between the two.  (See, the latter's dying father wanted 
the *former* to rule Rome.  Son steps in, murders mon pere and at-
tempts to kill the general.  Crowe's character escapes, but not 
before suffering great tragedy-- hint: it involves his wife and 
kid, of course-- before exacting great revenge.)  There's talent 
out the wazoo in this one and, yet, the first salvo of the summer 
season is an amazing, 155-minute compendium of movie-making mis-
fires.  Oh, where to begin?  Well, for starters, a poor sound re-
cording garbles the first half-hour (or more) of dialogue.  Are 
they speaking in strange accents?  Period speak?  Both?  Not that  
leading man-of-relatively-few-words Crowe necessarily needs to be 
heard.  His problem is a performance that's too emotionally re-
strained.  He's a *physically* formidable presence, sure, but his 
eyes don't burn with any fire.  (Unlike, say, Mel Gibson's simi-
larly scorned character in BRAVEHEART.)
The battle scenes, which we would hope would compensate for any 
acting liabilities, are hugely staged and expertly choreographed 
and, regrettably, edited in such a way that the various bone-
crushing blows are always a split-second too short to be savored.
We get an *impression* of fighting, if you will, rather than the 
actual *experience*.  Which bites.  Then there's Hans Zimmer's 
horrendously overpowering score, often mixed so loudly that it 
actually drowns out the crowds and clanging swords!  (Mind you, 
battering fanfares are still a world more tolerable than when the 
music veers into new-age-y TITANIC territory during the "softer" 
scenes.  Ugh.)  There's also the small matter of the story's geo-
graphy, which makes zero sense, unless, I suppose, you have a his-
tory degree.  First we see snow falling on cedars, then the green 
green grass of home, and then a desert.  Jeez, how 'bout title 
cards to help us out?  Or an on-screen map??  (Don't *tell* us 
about the reach of the Roman empire, *show* us!)  Did I mention 
the distracting dream sequences?  Or a digitally enhanced city-
scape that look suspiciously like outtakes from THE PHANTOM MEN-

As dreadful an overall experience as it is, the butt-numbing, 155-
minute epic is not without *some* worth.  The opening hundreds-
against-hundreds sequence is an instant grabber.  (Watch out for 
those catapults!)  The late Oliver Reed is full of gusto in his 
final (supporting) role as a slave trader slash fight promoter.  
(He died toward the end of production.)  Richard Harris is in 
there, too, looking eighty- or ninety-something.  (How 'bout that 
creepy chicken neck of his!?)  The best player, though by far, is 
Mr. Phoenix.  He's absolutely perfectly unsettling as the love-
starved, confidence-challenged ruler.  (Love those incestuous and 
homer-sexual overtones, too!)  So, sure, GLADIATOR's got game. 
And it's probably way entertaining enough for most of the masses,
unwashed or otherwise.  For the, ah, more discriminating action-
movie viewer, it's tedious.  Damn tedious.  Friggin' tedious.  I 
mean, come on, chariot movies shouldn't be a chore to watch...  
Postscript:  Thank you Mel Brooks, for memories of Madeline Kahn 
being schlepped through the streets of Rome.  Your HISTORY OF THE 
WORLD kept me amused when this version didn't...  Pipe the *shit* 
right out of your house!  (Rated "R"/155 min.)

Grade: C+

Copyright 2000 Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted to triangle.movies as MOVIE HELL: Lions 1, Christians 0

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Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros -Movie Hell™ is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros