Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by:David H. Franzoni, John Logan
Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Richard Harris, Djimon Hounsou, Derek Jacobi, Oliver Read, Connie Nielsen
Released: May 4, 2000
Grade: A-

The 2000 American filmgoers summer kicks off with Gladiator.  Following in the likes of Twister, The Lost World, Deep Impact and The Mummy, this film becomes the first blockbuster of the new year.

Categorised as an “epic”, Gladiator is from director Ridley Scott who’s no slouch at meeting the demands of a massive budget.  His previous works include Blade Runner, Alien, Thelma & Louise and the upcoming Hannibal.  No expense was spared in this recreation of Rome 180AD.

The Roman Empire is in a time of conflict.  The war has recently been won against Germania but the people of the Rome are suffering.  The aging emperor, Marcus Aurelius (Harris) wants the Empire to become a republic and to do so will turn over control to the Senate, as a voice of the people.

General Maximus (Crowe) has served his Emperor in battle for over two years and has become the highly respected leader of the Empire’s powerful army.  Marcus Aurelius asks Maximus to help give the Senate it’s power and wipe out the corruption that has taken over the Capital.

When heir to the throne, Commodus (Phoenix), discovers his father is not going to declare him as the new Emperor, he murders his father and orders Maximus and his family to be executed.  From there he returns to Rome with his sister Lucilla (Nielsen) and her son Lucius (Spencer Treat Clark) to take his reign and begin the process of dismantling the Senate.

Maximus’s wife and son are killed but Maximus escapes his executioners and vows to seek revenge on Commodus.  Captured by hunters, he is enslaved and sold to Proximo (Reed), who runs gladiator contests as a source of money and entertainment.  When he discovers Maximus’s immense talent, he travels to take on the best Rome has to offer.  A date at the Colosseum with a 50,000+ crowd and the Emperor himself in attendance.

Well cast, Gladiator is a film that takes its time to build but the ending is most satisfying.  The action scenes provide the film’s highlights although at times Scott’s quick cutaways and fast direction make it hard to figure out what is actually going on although I feel this may have been his intention.  Not to be overlooked are the great costumes from Janty Yeates and an incredible film score from Hans Zimmer and Australian Lisa Gerrard.

Oliver Reed in his final role is superb as are the elder gentlemen Derek Jacobi and Richard Harris.  It is Reed who echoes a line that will become infamous in years to come - “Win the crowd, and you’ll win your freedom”.  Joaquin Phoenix caught me by surprise with his great job at playing the “villain” and his relationship with his Connie Nielsen is both compelling and well developed.  I must not forget Russell Crowe (who has lost plenty of weight since The Insider) who is tough and shows no sign of his familiar Australian accent.

Some of the special effects were questionable but it doesn’t take much gloss off what is a passionate good versus evil journey.  The film consistently builds and by the final ten minutes you will feel you are in Ancient Rome and part of the Colosseum audience.  As Gladiator closes and the line “Directed by Ridley Scott” fades onto the screen, you blink, look around and take a brief moment to slip back into the 21st Century.  An epic indeed.