“Your Emperor asks for your loyalty, Maximus. Take my hand, I only offer it once.”
Powerful and respected Roman general, Maximus (Russell Crowe) fights what he hopes is his last battle and emerges victorious. He is to be sent home soon, and misses his family dearly. His emperor, Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) loves Maximus like a son, and prior to his death asks that Maximus step up and be the protector of Rome – he chose Maximus over his son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix).
Commodus and his sister, Lucilla (Connie Nielsen), meet their father and friend on the battlefield after having missed the entire event. Commodus learns that his father really is on the way out, and is angered when Marcus Aurelius tells him of the plan to appoint Maximus to rule Rome. In a fit of jealous rage, Commodus murders his father to take up the mantle of emperor before it gets out that he was not his father’s chosen successor. When Commodus demands Maximus’s loyalty, he is met with contempt and anger. Maximus knows that the emperor was murdered, and will not swear allegiance. His insolence in the Emperor’s eyes has condemned Maximus and his family to death.
Managing to escape, Maximus is desperate to get to his family back in Spain first and save them, but he is not in time. He is wounded and injured, yet still gives them a funeral. He loses his will to live and in his weakened state is taken as a slave and nursed back to health by his future friend Juba (Djimon Hounsou). He is then sold off to Proximo (Oliver Reed), a gladiator who won his freedom, and is trained as a gladiator. He has no will to live, though he wishes to honour the promise to Marcus Aurelius and take vengeance on Commodus for what he did to his family. Proximo is adamant that Maximus will fight on the sands, that he will not just stand there. Emerging victorious, the crowds take to the Spaniard as they call him. Proximo sees money, and urges Maximus to win the crowds and their love and adoration – it could save him one day.
Proximo is called to Rome to participate in the new gladiator games that Commodus has announced in honour of his father. In Rome, Commodus soon discovers that Maximus is alive and well and the Spaniard that the crowds love so much. Commodus is angered that he cannot simply kill Maximus and be done with it. On the other hand, his sister is plotting against him with members of the Senate to take him out of power while he is plotting to disband the Senate. Maximus has entered the equation at a very dangerous time, and is intent on seeing Commodus killed for his atrocities. Maximus and his ex-lover both want the same thing, and need to find a way that is suiting to bring the change in Rome about. He has the crowd’s favour and his men’s loyalty on his side, while Lucilla has most of the Senate on her side, most prominently Senator Gracchus (Derek Jacobi).
Will Maximus win his freedom, or ever be granted it after being branded a traitor and deserter? Can Maximus forgive Commodus for his heinous crime and see past Lucilla’s tenuous connection with her brother? Rome needs its protector, and Maximus is intent on honouring Marcus Aurelius’s wish to be such.
A 7.5/10 for Gladiator. Joaquin Phoenix was brilliant, and it amazed me how he pulled off the role of angry, insecure, bitter, whinging, whining and teary eyed Commodus. His scheming was also fantastic. Russell Crowe was a brilliant Roman general, and an equally brilliant gladiator, and his disregard for Marcus Aurelius’s successor is spine tingling. The story was sad, but I must say much less so than I recall it from my youth. Not saying it isn’t good, because it really is an impressive movie, but the extended that I watched felt so short, which shocked me, and the emotional side was somewhat stunted. I just feel that there was a lot going on, but not enough credence was given to how he went from general to gladiator. There was no real shift from the one to the next. The story was solid, the camera work decent, the dialogue was also pretty good, and naturally the story was inspiring in a non-complicated kind of way. There were a lot of mistakes and errors and what not, but overall not bad enough to detract from the viewing experience. Gladiator truly was a great film for its time and it holds up rather well so many years down the road. Whenever watching these shows from that era I am forcefully reminded about what animals Romans were, though they presented themselves as learned and superior in all aspects – never ceases to amaze me.