“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius; father to a murdered son; husband to a murdered wife; and I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”
‘Gladiator’, directed by Ridley Scott in 2000, is a rebooting of the sword-and-sandal genre that was popular in the 1960s but using cutting edge computer generated effects and a modern action movie style of filmmaking. It tells the story of Maximus Decimus Meridius, played by Russell Crowe, a Roman general who, after an attempt on his life, is captured into slavery, becomes a gladiator and then seeks to take his revenge on the new autocratic Emperor Commodus. It’s a story that features a number of twists and turns and political intrigue, but it is a movie that mostly basks in its ability to visually recreate the historical city of Rome and in its highly visceral and unflinching depiction of the brutality of the games. It is, to quote a leading authority in film criticism, ‘like a cross between ‘Time Team’ and ‘Casualty’. The dialogue is rich and quotable and the incidental music is stirring (although has been tarnished somewhat by being adopted by the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies). The performances are also strong: Crowe is charismatic and Oliver Reed, in his last role as the gladiator owner, is weary but has the steel of an old fighter. Reed’s presence in the movie is evidence of this movies real place in cinema history, however. For all the extravagant and elaborate CGI effects of the Colosseum and the city surrounding it, it is the almost invisible posthumous recreation of Oliver Reed that really signals a seismic shift in the way computers can be used to augment live action. It’s a powerful, rich, at times over-the-top movie that never drags but frequently excites.
Would I recommend it? You’ve probably already seen it – and those who haven’t have clearly been too deeply buried in books and work. Watch with a movie like ‘Ben Hur’, maybe both the 1959 and the 2016 versions to get a sense of how Rome on screen has ‘evolved’ through the decades.