I have never really like Russell Crowe that much. I can definitely appreciate him as an actor, but I do find him a bit overrated. For those people who are outraged and writing me off as a crazy Roosters fan who just hates everything to do with Souths owner Crowe, you are wrong. I’ve always found him overrated and a jerk, the fact he then went and bought the team I despise was the final nail in the coffin (for those American readers who are likely confused right now, Crowe owns a football team in Australia that is the main rival of the team I support, it would be something similar to a Red Sox fan hating George Steinbrenner if Steinbrenner made movies).
I had not watched Gladiator since I first saw it in the movies before watching it a few days ago. I remember being less than impressed by it and then confused when everyone thought it was a masterpiece, and then even more confused when Crowe took home the Best Actor Oscar over the brilliant Tom Hanks in Cast Away. Now I will give credit where it is due, Crowe should have won for A Beautiful Mind, but he should have been nowhere near the podium for Gladiator, especially because the only reason Hanks didn’t win is because the foolish voters didn’t want someone to win the award three times.
Gladiator is an epic movie, that cannot be argued, and Crowe gives a good performance and Ridley Scott is great, as usual. There is something missing for me, though. This story doesn’t grab me enough because I don’t care much for Crowe’s plight. His character, Maximus, is a general in the Roman army and is betrayed by Caesar’s corrupt son (Joaquin Phoenix), forcing him into exile. He eventually is sold into slavery and becomes a gladiator to entertain the masses by brawling with other big burly men.
My biggest problem with this film is that Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Commodus, comes across as a whiny school boy. He is not very threatening, and I also did not care about Crowe’s character as much as I should. As I said, I’ve thought this well before he bought the football team I hate. This is just my opinion, and you wouldn’t be reading this blog, I hope, if you didn’t want to hear it once in a while.
Crowe is fine (not Oscar worthy, but still pretty good), and Ridley Scott has made a very pretty film, the scenes at the digitally recreated Coliseum are great, but I can’t put this on the same level as some of the other truly epic films I have seen. Films like Lord of the Rings feel epic in scale and, at times, Gladiator feels like it is trying too hard to be.
At one point in Gladiator Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) asks his audience, “Are you not entertained?” To which I respond, “Eh… kind of?” I love historical dramas and epics, but this one never grabbed me. I’ve never gotten what all the fuss was about, or why Crowe took the Best Actor Oscar over Tom Hanks in Cast Away. (The man makes you care about a volleyball. Now that’s entertaining!)
This is a movie that is loosely based on historical fact, but makes a lot of changes to increase the drama. Crowe’s character Maximus is fictional, combining elements from several historical figures to create the badass general-turned-gladiator shown on screen. The characters he interacts with are real, with a hefty dose of poetic license applied to their personalities. Which leads me to my main point of contention with this movie: why invent a character when reality is just as– if not more– exciting?
I can do with Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) murdering his father, Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), to become emperor. It may not have happened in real life, but it’s certainly more dramatic than the reality (Marcus just died. Very un-Roman if you ask me.). However, Commodus’ reign was full of political intrigue, power plays by his sisters and their husbands, and an assassination by his trusted sparring partner. It hardly needs a fake gladiator to jazz it up. For me, this huge change to historical fact turns the story into a boring, run of the mill revenge fantasy, when it could have been much more.
Other than the story, the acting is good, though not “Russell Crowe is Best Actor” good. I especially enjoyed Phoenix’s performance; it’s always fun watching someone who plays a bad guy so well. The visuals are interesting. I found the colors a tad too bright at times, and some of the scenes look too clean given the grittiness of the subject matter.
While I’m ambivalent at best to Gladiator, it did reignite interest in historical epics and lead to the creation of one of the best television shows ever: HBO’s Rome. God, I love that show.