Gladiator: The Epic Historical Drama That Won 5 Oscars
Gladiator is a 2000 epic historical drama film directed by Ridley Scott and written by David Franzoni, John Logan, and William Nicholson. It was produced by Universal Pictures. DreamWorks Pictures distributed the film in North America while Universal Pictures released it internationally through United International Pictures. It stars Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Tomas Arana, Ralf Möller, Oliver Reed (in his final role), Djimon Hounsou, Derek Jacobi, John Shrapnel, Richard Harris, and Tommy Flanagan. Crowe portrays Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridius, who is betrayed when Commodus, the ambitious son of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, murders his father and seizes the throne. Reduced to slavery, Maximus becomes a gladiator and rises through the ranks of the arena to avenge the murders of his family and his emperor.
Commodus proclaims himself the new emperor, asking Maximus for his loyalty, but he refuses. Maximus is arrested by the Praetorian Guard and is told that he and his family will die. He kills his captors and, wounded, rides for his home near Turgalium (now Trujillo), where he finds his wife and son crucified. Maximus buries them, then collapses from his injuries. Slavers find him, and take him to the city of Zucchabar in the Roman province of Mauretania Caesariensis, where he is sold to gladiator trainer Proximo.
Maximus reluctantly fights in local tournaments, his combat skills helping him win matches and gain popularity. He befriends two other gladiators: Hagen, a German; and Juba, a Numidian. Proximo reveals to Maximus that he was once a gladiator who was freed by Marcus Aurelius, and advises him to "win the crowd" to win his freedom.
When Commodus organises 150 days of games to commemorate his father's death, Proximo takes his gladiators to Rome to fight in the Colosseum. Disguised in a masked helmet, Maximus debuts in the Colosseum as a Carthaginian in a re-enactment of the Battle of Zama. Unexpectedly, he leads his side to victory, and Commodus enters the Colosseum to offer his congratulations. He orders the disguised Maximus, as leader of the gladiators, to reveal his identity; Maximus removes his helmet and declares vengeance. Commodus is compelled by the crowd to let the gladiators live, and his guards are held back from striking them down.
Maximus's next fight is against a legendary undefeated gladiator, Tigris of Gaul. Commodus arranges for several tigers to be set upon Maximus during the duel, but Maximus manages to prevail. Commodus orders Maximus to kill Tigris, but Maximus spares his opponent's life; in response, the crowd chants "Maximus the Merciful", angering Commodus.
Maximus discovers from Cicero, his ex-orderly, that his former legions remain loyal. He meets in secret with Lucilla, Commodus's sister and once the lover of Maximus; and Gracchus, an influential senator. They agree to have Maximus escape Rome to join his legions, topple Commodus by force, and hand power back to the Roman Senate. Commodus learns of the plot when Lucilla's son, Lucius, innocently hints at the conspiracy. Commodus threatens Lucilla and Lucius, and has the Praetorian Guard arrest Gracchus and attack the gladiators' barracks. Proximo and his men, including Hagen, sacrifice themselves to enable Maximus to escape. Maximus is captured at the rendezvous with Cicero, where the latter is killed.
To win back public approval, Commodus challenges Maximus to a duel in the Colosseum. He stabs Maximus in the lung before the match to gain an advantage. Despite his injuries, Maximus disarms Commodus. After the Praetorian Guard refuses to aid him, Commodus unsheathes a hidden knife; Maximus overpowers Commodus and drives the knife into his throat, killing him. Before Maximus succumbs to his wounds, he asks for political reforms, for his gladiator allies to be freed and for Senator Gracchus to be reinstated. As he dies, he has a vision where he reunites with his wife and son. His friends and allies honor him as "a soldier of Rome", at Lucilla's behest and carry his body out of the arena, while the body of Commodus is left behind. That night, Juba visits the Colosseum and buries figurines of Maximus's wife and son at the spot where he died.
The scenes of slavery, desert travel, and gladiatorial training school were shot in Ouarzazate, Morocco, just south of the Atlas Mountains over a further three weeks. To construct the arena where Maximus has his first fights, the crew used basic materials and local building techniques to manufacture the 30,000-seat mud brick arena. The scenes of Ancient Rome were shot over a period of nineteen weeks in Fort Ricasoli, Malta.
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The performances and the cast were praised by critics, with Crowe and Phoenix being considered by critics as the main highlights. Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter said Crowe "solidly anchors this epic-scale gladiator movie - the first in nearly four decades - by using his burly frame and expressive face to give dimension to what might otherwise have been comic book heroics." In his positive review for The Wall Street Journal, Joe Morgensten said that Crowe "doesn't use tricks in this role to court our approval. He earns it the old-fashioned way, by daring to be quiet, if not silent, and intensely, implacably strong," and that the film "rests on Mr. Crowe's armor-clad shoulders, and he carries it remarkably well." Empire's Ian Nathan, giving the film four stars, wrote that Phoenix displayed "gleeful hamminess" in his performance.
Writing for the film, Nathan expressed that "while it's all grand opera, and driven by sweeping gestures and pompous, overwritten dialogue, it is prone to plain silliness - especially in granting us the big showdown at the close. But the sheer dynamism of the action, coupled with Hans Zimmer's lavish score and the forcefield of Crowe, still makes this a fiercesome competitor in the summer movie stakes." Geoff Andrew of Time Out praised the film, saying that "the cast is strong (notably Nielsen as Commodus's vacillating sister, and the late Oliver Reed, unusually endearing as a gladiator owner), the pacing lively, and the sets, swordplay and Scud catapults impressive. Roger Ebert, who was otherwise critical in his two-star review, praised Nielsen for having the most depth in the entire film. On the other hand, Camille Paglia, who called the film "boring, badly shot and suffused with sentimental p.c. rubbish," criticized Crowe and Phoenix's performances
Scott's directing was generally praised by critics, whom called it a return to form for the director. In her A- review for Entertainment Weekly, Lisa Schwarzbaum praised Scott's directing, particularly during the opening battle sequence. Schwarzbaum writes that with the battle sequence, "Scott lets loose his own extraordinary assault. It's a bravura sequence of flaming arrows, falling horses, and mortal combat that doesn't copy Private Ryan's famous opening tour de force of carnage so much as raise a banner in admiration. It's Scott the visual artist at his most deluxe." Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian wrote that "Scott really scores in his big Rome set-pieces, especially Crowe's combat with men and tigers in a computer-enhanced Colosseum much bigger and more monumental than the original," and that "for all of its implausible silliness and towering high camp, Scott's movie tells an engaging story, and the central arena fight-sequence in which Maximus and his gladiators playing the doomed Carthaginians end up defeating the Romans and reversing history "to the emperor's horror" is wittily and adroitly done: a sly demonstration of the confluence of politics and mass entertainment." Michael Wilmington of The Chicago Tribune gave praise to Scott's direction, comparing the visual style of the film to that of Scott's 1982 film Blade Runner.
Gladiator is loosely based on real events that occurred within the Roman Empire in the latter half of the 2nd century AD. As Ridley Scott wanted to portray Roman culture more accurately than in any previous film, he hired several historians as advisors. Some deviations from historical facts were made to increase interest, maintain narrative continuity, and for practical or safety reasons. Scott stated that due to the influence of previous films affecting the public perception of what ancient Rome was like, some historical facts were "too unbelievable" to include. For instance, in an early version of the script, gladiators would have been carrying out product endorsements in the arena. While this would have been historically accurate, it was not filmed for fear that audiences would think it anachronistic.
In the film the character Antonius Proximo claims "the wise" Marcus Aurelius banned gladiatorial games in Rome, forcing him to move to Mauretania. The real Aurelius banned games, but only in Antioch as punishment for the city's support of the usurper Avidius Cassius. No games were ever banned in Rome. However, when the Emperor started conscripting gladiators into the legions, the resulting shortage in fighters allowed lanistae such as Proximo to make "windfall" profits through increased charges for their services.
The loss of his family and emperor mentally breaks Maximus, who initially refuses to fight with the other gladiators and eventually cuts out the legion tattoo on his arm. This further solidifies Maximus' alienation from Rome. Cyrino, who noted that "Maximus' alienation from a degenerate Rome and his deep-seated ambivalence about his role in restoring Roman government to the people suggests a parallel to post-Cold War America," notes that even as there was a "temporary boost in the rhetoric of national unity and superficial displays of patriotism after September 11, 2001, current political and social commentators remark on the apathy of the American electorate, such as low voter turnout and a persistent lack of interest in political debate." When Maximus returns to Rome as a slave, "he eventually realizes what he has already begun to understand: "The mob is Rome."" Driven by his anger and isolation, Maximus' resolution is to re-enact his ideal of Rome from within the arena. After he kills Commodus before he succumbs to his wounds, Maximus asks Quintus to reinstate Senator Gracchus in the hope that Gracchus will help to reinstate Marcus Aurelius' ideals.