Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen
Director: Ridley Scott
Running Time: 155 mins
Gladiator is an American film about a former Roman General who, upon the rise of the new Emperor, sees his wife and son murdered, and himself landed in a life of slavery, leading him to launch a quest for revenge against the man who destroyed his life.
With a fascinating historical setting coupled with an enthralling personal story, Gladiator proves a riveting watch throughout its entire two and a half hour runtime, and although it may at times lean a little too heavily on some of its blockbuster, action tendencies, it impresses hugely with fantastic emotional drama and two powerhouse lead performances from beginning to end.
Given that the Roman Empire was history’s most powerful empire, you’d think that there would be more all-time classics about the Romans. However, it’s a period that’s often glossed over in a historical context, with many films looking at the period pointing to the decadent lifestyles of the elite, rather than combining that with a wider context.
Gladiator, on the other hand, not only brings a wider historical context into play (you’ll learn a lot about the Romans here), but also employs brilliant personal and emotional drama to give power to the story as well. As a result, it’s an educational watch that doesn’t feel like a history lesson, and an emotional watch that has some genuine gravitas and importance to it as well.
Throughout, Ridley Scott does a fantastic job to portray the period in as spectacular detail as possible, with the film impressing with incredible visual effects, production and costume design, as well as a big, exciting blockbuster vibe that drives real energy into the portrayal of the period like few films have before.
It’s often reminiscent of the scale and grandeur of Ben-Hur, a big, epic blockbuster that still has the dramatic chops to engross you throughout. The story, too, shares real similarities with Ben-Hur, also taking its inspiration from real historical events and crafting them into an enthralling story throughout, following the tale of redemption and revenge of a once-powerful general as he seeks to break out of slavery and come face to face with the new emperor, who ruined his life.
When it comes to the action side of the story, the big, blockbuster vibe certainly works wonders for bringing real energy and entertainment value to proceedings, but I must say that there are moments when it’s all a little bit too blockbuster-esque for its own good. The dramatic story is so riveting throughout, yet the film often spends too long on big, gory battle sequences which, although adding to the story effectively, just go on a little too much, and feel intrusive to the flow of the core plot.
Finally, a word on the performances, which are fantastic across the board. A huge cast that includes cinematic legends like Oliver Reed and Richard Harris, the acting is excellent wherever you look here, but it’s the two lead turns from Joaquin Phoenix and Russell Crowe that really impress, with their rivalry being played out with real energy and emotion from beginning to end, playing a huge role in engrossing you in the story of revenge and redemption for every minute of the film’s two and a half hours.
Overall, I was very impressed by Gladiator. A historically fascinating, dramatically riveting and all-round engrossing watch from beginning to end, its big, action-packed entertainment works brilliantly with real dramatic depth and intrigue throughout, and makes for an enthralling two and a half hours, which is why I’m giving it an 8.1.