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A Gladiatorial English Director
by Asa Butcher
2007-11-30 09:47:35
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Directed by Ridley Scott
Dreamworks Pictures, 2000

Ridley Scott, arguably one of the best English directors plying his trade in Hollywood at present, notches up his 70th birthday today and to honour him upon this special day I present a review of the sword and sandals epic Gladiator. Despite cinemas currently showing his latest film American Gangster and the 25th anniversary re-release of Blade Runner, I have chosen Gladiator purely because - so far - it is his only film to win Best Picture.

Prepare to gasp in horror, but in his three decades of film-making Ridley Scott has never won an Academy Award for directing. He came close with nominations for Thelma & Louise, Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, but the man responsible for Alien, Hannibal and The Duellists has never received the coveted gold-plated statuette. As we approached the Oscars earlier this year I wrote that Martin Scorsese had continually missed out on an award, but that was corrected with a win for directing The Departed. I can only hope that the Academy believe that Scott's directing in American Gangster is also worthy of a win.

American Gangster reunited Ridley Scott with Russell Crowe for the third time and they even have two more projects scheduled together for 2008 and 2009. However, it was Gladiator that first brought them together seven years ago and the chemistry was enough to hand one of them an award. For his role as "Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife," he won his deserved first Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

Gladiator is an epic film in both scale and beauty, reminiscent of the masterpieces made by Sir David Lean in the 1960s, yet this has the added advantage of a useful tool called CGI. When I first saw this in the cinema at the turn of the century I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the opening battle scene between the Roman army and the Germanic barbarians, and then this was followed by the majestic return of Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) into Rome, a scene which has strong echoes of Hitler's entrance in Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will.

As I previously said and must repeat, Gladiator doesn't do small. The entire film seems to overawe the viewer in scale, plus it is interesting to know that when Scott saw the Colosseum in Rome he thought it was too small for their needs. It is the gladiatorial battle scenes inside the Colosseum that engrave themselves upon your memory, especially the recreation of the Battle of Carthage and Crowe's fight with the Tigris of Gaul, which includes some highly realistic tigers.

Russell Crowe is certainly not Spartacus, although there are obvious comparisons in the plot and character, and it is not surprising to learn that this was one of Crowe's favourite roles. He literally threw himself into the fight scenes and ending up breaking bones in his foot and his hip, plus he injured both bicep tendons, which makes you wonder how he prepared for one of his first roles as a Nazi skinhead in Romper Stomper.

Emperor Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix, must be the movie character in most need of psychotherapy following his decision to murder his own father and loves his own sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) a little bit too much. Phoenix's portrayal is disturbing and leaves you in no doubt that you want his character dead before the credits roll. One actor who was dead three weeks before the film had wrapped was Oliver Reed, who passed away following a heart attack. His remaining scenes were completed using a double, photographed in the shadows and with a 3D CGI mask of Reed's face.

Gladiator is simply a film about a general who became a slave, a slave who became a gladiator, and a gladiator who defied an emperor. It is a simple film beautifully directed and superbly acted by a worthy cast, and if Ridley Scott's latest film American Gangster is as good then he has no worries at the 80th Academy Awards.

Happy 70th birthday, Ridley!

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Emanuel Paparella2007-11-30 11:16:42
Indeed, when I saw that opening battle at the start of the movie I was immediately brought back to Thomas Cahill book How the Irish Saved Civilization which also starts with a depiction of the barbarians posed beyond the river Rhine to invade the Roman Empire. What makes the clash in both the movie and the book epic is that it depicts a clash of cultures and civilizations and mind-sets the stakes are high: the very survival of civilization as was known at the time. On one side a wise philosopher emperor Marcus Aurelius with a son woefully inadequate to fill his shoes and on the other German fierceness and contempt for Roman regimentation. The Romans won for a while by sheer discipline and military know-how and superior weapons. Eventually the barbarians, as Cahill masterfully points out, won culturally what they could not win on the battlefield thus saving Greco-Roman civilization which returned in the Italian Humanism and Renaissance, in synthesis with Christianity. The cycles and the era of the gods and heroes return eventually.

Clint2007-11-30 19:51:25
"On my command unleash hell" is there a better line in a better opening to a film? Gladiator certainly never gathers dust on my DVD shelf. Magnificent, and a great final fling for Oliver Reed. Russell Crowe's delivery of "My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, 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". Top man! Must watch it again tonight.

Eva2007-12-01 14:54:27
I saw American Gangster a few days ago and I really liked it. Good acting and well directed. Classic, yet refreshing.

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