Beating Crowe
Review by Ross Anthony

Back in the days of the Roman Empire, Italian soldiers spent a lot of time conquering Europe. But as one particular Caesar ages, he ponders his purpose. "Maximus, why are we here?" (in Germania), he whines. "For the Glory of Rome," Maximus (Crowe) responds. Reflecting on the bloodshed, Caesar sighs, "So much for the glory of Rome." This seemingly-innocent mumble has a wonderfully-biting double edge.

Tired of war, Caesar plans to raise his trusted and son-like warrior, Maximus, to guardian of a restored republican Rome. Yet, in all his great wisdom Caesar prematurely reveals the plan to his real son, Commodus. (There'll be no Rome left for him.) Before Maximus is ordained, Commodus kills his father and thus becomes a tyrant king. He orders the deaths of Maximus and family, then sits back in the throne. Maximus narrowly escapes, but is captured (as a slave) by a circus leader who runs a traveling gladiator show. Coincidentally, Commodus decides to reinstate the game in Rome, thus the mighty Maximus arrives back in the capital harboring a festering vendetta.

It's a great story, celebrated warrior turned slave, turned gladiator, turned revolutionary. And Crowe is steadfast. But here are the problems: His son and wife look like models in an aspirin commercial. They have no lines. They're displayed either as Utopian or crispy dead - never real. So we feel nothing for them and when they're slain, we don't care. Better to leave them unshown. Crowe is a great actor, let his love for them be enough to make us care. This is a long film, cut out their segments entirely. Conveying them only as ideas, the film would be stronger. I have great faith in Crowe's ability to make us long for that family with him. Unspecified, we can fill in the blanks with our own warm feelings of home.

The two other problems involve the beginning and the ending. I just don't believe that a great wise leader would have so immaturely handled such a delicate situation as depriving the throne from his immoral son. Caesar would have ordered his son Commodus off on some important mission in some distant land or other, while Maximus was ordained. Either that, or (dare you scheme with me) Caesar may have wanted the son to murder him, thus inspiring Maximus all the more - but if the writers intended this twist they certainly did not clearly lay it out. Such a strategy would have improved the film and my ability to "buy in" earlier on.

But whether you "buy in" or not, it's still a fun story. Powerful underdog, rising from the slime and under-appreciated to challenge the all mighty czar. And there's all that blood and guts in the arena.

The very first fight (meant to establish Crowe as a fighting man's general of war) begins with nightsky-scraping flaming arrows that dash across in the twilight emitting a magically-lethal orange glow. I thought to myself, "This is one medieval battlefield rumble to end all cinema recreations." As the conflict rages, the camera angles become increasingly narrowed and the screen full of flames and blurred soldiers in slow mo. But the effect becomes over-digitized in a strobe reminiscent of a consumer camera, subtracting from the realism and gravity of the fight. And instead of continuing the ever-tightening angle to personalize the savagery, a few mid-wide shots are tossed in. It breaks up the direction of the sequence and wakes the viewer from its hypnotic effect. Still a strong sequence overall, but "The Messenger" did a better job.

Lastly, this is an action film and not-disappointingly it ends with action. Unfortunately, a few additional lines of dialogue are tacked on, again diluting the power of the event. Nothing needed to be said!

"Gladiator" does best what it proposes - it be's big! Though I expected more from this two hour fifty minute epic, I still enjoyed it, while most others I spoke with loved it.

  • Gladiator. Copyright © 2000. Rated R.
  • Starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix (Commodus), Oliver Reed * (Proximo Palindromos), Richard Harris (Marcus Aurelius), Connie Nielsen (Lucilla), Djimon Hounsou (Juba), Ralf Moeller (Hagen), Derek Jacobi (Gracchus), Spencer Treat Clark (Lucius), David Hemmings (Cassius), Tomas Arana (Quintus).
  • Directed by Ridley Scott.
  • Written by David Franzoni.
  • Executive Producers: Walter F. Parkes, Laurie MacDonald.
  • Produced by Douglas Wick, David Franzoni, Branko Lustig at Dreamworks/Universal.


Copyright © 2000. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 08:10:02 PDT