Gladiator might not be the epic most people want it to be, but it does serve up some good results.
Russel Crowe is Maximus, a General who became a fugitive slave after his emperor was killed and the successor realized that he was a threat. Gladiator does bear a lot of action film clichés in terms of dialogue but Crowe pulls them off really nicely, making them seem less overused than they really are. He continues to prove that he is a great actor (he was nominated for an Oscar for last year's The Insider) but also shows that he can be an action hero, as he delivers some Braveheart-style battles.
And best of all, Gladiator is set in the time of the Romans. Strangely enough, not that many movies have dealt with this time period recently, even though it is such an important part of history. Director Ridley Scott brings Rome back to life with computerized actors and buildings, and while they might not look completely realistic, the point is taken. When the gladiators step into the center of the Coliseum, it is breathtaking (and a lot larger than what it looks like nowadays). However, I did feel that the Roman time period isn't really brought to life in Gladiator, as the story basically follows Crowe around. Joaquin Pheonix, who plays Emperor Commodus, gets a lot of screen time but the entire feeling of the Roman Empire never makes it to the screen. While Pheonix delivers a riveting performance, his character does seem like other overly-ambitious characters from other movies. Going back to the whole Roman Empire thing, though, if a little bit more of the movie had looked into the city itself and the people, the world Scott created would seem much more alive. Instead, there are a lot of scenes between Commodus and Lucilla (Connie Nielsen, who also found screen time in Mission to Mars).
And this is where the movie really suffers. Gladiator is a whopping two hours and forty-five minutes long, and the whole thing isn't bloody action. The rest of the movie deals with character and plot development, mainly between the relationship of the Emperor and his sister. The sister isn't as pleased with him as he is with her, and there is a lot of political tension in the air. The problem is that the story could be played out in much shorter scenes while still allowing the actors to perform as well as they want to. It is obvious that the length of these incredibly boring scenes are there entirely to show off the director's angles and the actors' acting. If Gladiator kept closer to two hours than three, than this would be a fabulous movie.
Alas, it is not, so we have to work with what is given to us. Luckily, every boring scene is counteracted, at least for the most part, by awesome and bloody action scenes, a la Braveheart. Heads roll, bodies are split in two, and lots die as Crowe charges his way to the Emperor himself. The audience cheered in many places when Crowe pulled off an amazing piece of sword work. Ridley Scott does use some fast motion clips in the action scenes which I think demean the essence of this film as a supposed epic. Epics need to be traditional. Furthermore (and this fits in with the very slightly disappointing ending), Crowe flashes to his family and his home a few times during the film, making it look like The Messenger, a movie that suffered for the same reasons.
Gladiator gets to the point (pun intended) but comes up just short with too many and too long boring scenes. Luckily, when this comes out on video and DVD, I'll be able to cut it down to two hours and have a thoroughly enjoyable time watching an intense movie.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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