The Film

Obviously I loved this film beyond description, and so I want to write some kind of review or at least voice my opinions on why I enjoyed it so much.  I will try not to make this just another "WOW, AWESOME, THIS FILM KICKS ASS", because to be frank, I think it's great that so many people have loved watching it like me, but there are enough of those reviews out and about already and they don't really go much into detail about WHY it is so "awesome" e.t.c, e.t.c,

Anyway, onto the praising babble...

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~Why did I love it so much?~

The performances

Russell Crowe: One word.  Wow.  I cannot remember the last time I have been so gripped and so enthralled by the main hero and his story.  And Maximus was just a true hero.   Russell Crowe gave a fantastic performance, one for which he definitely deserves some form of 'official' recognition.  I knew who he was, but had never seen him in a role before, and I had been planning on watching "L.A Confidential" for a long time, based on my brother and sister's high approval of it, but had never gotten round to it.  In "Gladiator" he just blew me away.  Okay, so maybe there were other factors such as the fact that one of the first things I commented on while watching the film was, "Hey, he's got quite nice eyes," and later on I was just staring at the screen and...well, you could say, drooling, but he's certainly not just another "pretty face".  It was the strength and charisma as the man that he was that he exuded all the way through the film that just leaked everywhere.  As the main character, he actually didn't have that much to say, and there was even about one fifth of the film where he said nothing: if my memory serves me, from the point at his execution where he shouts "Praetorian!" to when he's in the arena at his second gladiatorial fight and shouts, "Are you not entertained?!".  So how did he manage to grab hold of the audience for so long without any words?  It's a simple answer really.  It is because Russell Crowe is just such a *good* actor and he's so intense and deep into his role that he doesn't need to say anything to express his emotions.  He *becomes* Maximus, and it's in his face that you can see everything you need to.  I cannot help but admire him for his great professionalism and expertise he displays as an actor; when you forget that you are watching an actor performing and instead, totally and hopelessly buy into the credibility of the character, that's when magic occurs.

If you're completely stupefied by this whole "face-acting nonsense", I'll try and give a few examples. Remember at the very beginning after we see Maximus's hand running through the golden corn/wheat fields?   There is a short scene where we see Maximus for the first time.  He spots a tiny robin perched on a tree branch, and he stands there watching it.  The little bird then flies off and his eyes follow it, an amused smile coming to his face.  It just as quickly disappears when he realises the grave implications of the battle he is about to command, and the lives he will inevitably have to take.  Amazing what such a small, apparently meaningless scene can actually carry in emotion.  Other examples include: his look of surprise and the gentleness with which he treats Lucius when he beckons him forward; barely suppressed, burning rage when he utters, "The time for honouring yourself will soon be at an end...highness."; opening the pouch Cicero gave him and finding the little clay figurines of his family; displaying his disgust for the crowd's bloodthirsty enjoyment in violent deaths in the kasbah (sp?) at Proximo's gladiator school; reaching out to 'open the door' at the end before being called back by Quintus....the list just goes on, and on, and on..............*G*

Whether as a battle-wearied general, loving father, brutal warrior, or even a simple farmer, Russell Crowe made Maximus a rounded, human, believable character.

Joaquin Phoenix: All I need say about Joaquin's performance, is that Commodus was just someone I absolutely loved hating!  I mean, ew, his incestual behaviour and spoilt-brattiness made me cringe.   Certain scenes with Lucilla made me sink back into my seat and go "Ick!", and I couldn't wait for Maximus to lay his hands into him and remove him from the face of the earth.  That just shows how good a performance it must have been.

Connie Nielsen: I remember sitting there and thinking, "Boy, she gets to wear a Hell of a lot of gorgeous clothes!"  Albeit some of her outfits made her look like a Christmas present, or a parcel or something, she still looked absolutely beautiful.  She portrayed her role of a terrified yet regal sister perfectly.  Some of my favourite scenes include the "busy bee" scene, and the "Am I not Merciful" scene.  Again, no words, but volumes of emotion.  It was wonderful watching her emotional, silent defiance.

I could go on, but it would take me ages.   Every other perfomance was brilliant, including those by Richard Harris, Oliver Reed, and  Djimon Hounsou.


The special effects

The opening battle had my jaw on the floor.   There was something giggle-worthy about that line of fire and the sheer mass of soldiers and the tortoise formation and the charging cavalry and the branches of the trees exploding into flame...

Okay, so I had to turn away at some points, but it was still thoroughly amazing.

The visions of Rome proved another jaw-dropping instance.  The sheer size and beauty of the pillared structures of the city buildings, and the tiers of the coliseum were awe-inspiring.  It just reminded you of the brilliance that was Rome, and you think about how this was possible so many hundreds of years ago.

Other honourable mentions have to be the tiger fight, and the Battle of Carthage.  The chariot scenes invoked a number of incoherent verbal responses from me, that's for sure.


The score

Whenever I go to see a film, I always listen out for the music.  It isn't just a co-incidence that most of my favourite films contain some of my favourite music.  One of the first things that struck me about "Gladiator" was its score.  During the first battle, the first thing that jumped out of my head was, "Mars!".  Quite fitting really, I suppose, because Mars is, after all, the Roman God of war.  The brash, brutal themes connected with any battle or fight scene fitted brilliantly, and I never once regarded it as "noise".  And then there was the other side, a lone, haunting, female voice, speaking to the heart of the audience and illustrating Maximus's sorrow over his family, and his home, and his livelihood. 

In my opinion, the music really made the film.   I wonder if it would have had the same effect on me if its score wasn't so amazing.  I got the soundtrack about a week later, and I really think it might possibly be my favourite CD, next to my Babylon 5 soundtracks.  There hasn't been a day since when I haven't listened to it, it's that good.


The story

It wasn't just any old shoot 'em up, action spectacular, it had a story too!  I was glad for the political intrigue, because any form of political machinations always interests me.  The story at the heart of the movie was in fact very simple, but that also made it easier for it to be such a good "hero" movie, because the motivations and feelings behind the characters were easy to relate to.  The villain was easy to hate, and the hero had the girls (me included) swooning, and the guys in admiration.  All in all, good old-fashioned storytelling.


The ending

I loved the ending.  Even though I loved Maximus, I could see no better way to finish the film than with his death.  Okay, so it was hardly unforeseen or unpredictable, but you have to admit, at the time, you hoped somehow he would make it, and when he fell hard to the ground like he did, it was a shock.   Maximus had been haunted by visions of his own death throughout the film.   Everything that meant anything to him had been taken away from him, he didn't have any reasons left to live - "Whisper to them that I live only to hold them again for all else is dust and air."  All that remains of any degree of importance is to avenge his wife's and his son's deaths, and then, to simply return home.  And even though it was sad, and yes, I did cry, it managed to somehow leave me on a high.  It was uplifting, because when you saw him walking through the fields of Elysium to meet with his family, you couldn't possibly be more happy for him.  He finally had all he ever wanted.


Other comments:

The length: Where the heck did the two and a half hours go?  I've seen the film twice, although I would greatly like to increase on that total, and the time just flew.  I've read that there's about half an hour's worth of material cut out of the film!  If so, I wish they had left it in, I would be one person who wouldn't be bothered.  Perhaps that's because it wouldn't be so much of a surprise to me, after all I have grown up watching Indian films, which are always the trademark "three and a half hours" long, so there you go.

Emotional involvement with the characters: Yes, it made me cry - key points would have to be Maximus returning home to see all his crops burnt and his familt slain, and of course, the very end.  The second time I saw it though, oh boy, that was bad.  I had been listening to the soundtrack constantly beforeheand and I just cannot explain the emotions it brings out in me, so there I was, blubbing away throughout the WHOLE of the film, and it all started when the Dreamworks logo came up, can you believe it!  And there it was, I could hear "Progeny" in the background and it set me off.  It got even worse when you saw Max's hand running through the golden fields and then the music at the beginning of "The Battle" started up...Just what is it with those stupid corn fields and his hand, why does something so simple get to me so badly?