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Hollywood Claims Another Victim

Aug 14, 2000
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Good acting, interesting story, nice visuals

Cons:Bloated, manipulative, pretentious, directed weakly

Epinions has ruined me from enjoying Hollywood movies. I know I should just go into them and enjoy the ride, but my inner critic (who resembles a hungover Gene Shalit) won't let me. So instead of words like "majestic" and "moving," you will hear "bloated" and "manipulative."

General Maximus (played by manly bo-hunk Russel Crowe) kicks ass in battle but gets betrayed by the new Caesar, Comitus (Joaquin Phoenix, who gets no love from them dogs). He escapes execution but is sold into slavery and forced into gladiatorial combat, where he uses his military training to pulverize the other gladiators for the entertainment of the masses. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, his wife and kid are slain by Roman soldiers. This sets up a convenient and familiar Braveheart-esque revolt in the name of personal revenge.

There is a good amount of stuff to like here. The actors all put in good, solid (albeit hammy like a plate of pork chops) performances in meaty, nuanced roles. There are quite a few spectacular shots of Roman armies in battle, dazzling architecture, and the colosseum itself, all aided by a tasteful use of computer graphics. There's the standard amount of Roman backstabbing, debauch, and conniving. But, like a hot pink neon sign on a library, Ridley Scott's blunt direction drowns these out.

First of all, when I go to a summer flick advertised as being about dudes of yore hacking each other apart with swords, I want to see this promised hacking. Note that "see" is the operative word here. Scott uses a shaky camera style similar to Saving Private Ryan for the battle scenes that obscures and confuses the action scenes. That's fine if you're trying to put the audience into the battle, a al Ryan, but Scott alternately vilifies and glorifies violence, all the while flinching at the direct portrayal of it. Sympathetic characters laugh as Maximus decapitates his foes, then Maximus chastises the arena audience for enjoying his slaughter (who then cheer for him, much like us as the audience of the film were supposed to do).

There are more directorial gaffes. Scott gives us numerous pointless reaction shots during battles. He beats several manipulative and tiresome devices into our heads as we get long shots of Maximus's hand stroking his beloved wheat field or praying to symbols of his wife and kids (in remarkably Christian sounding version of the Roman's polytheistic ways). He bloats the movie with pointlessly repetitive scenes where Comitus wants to sleep with his sister, Maximus mourns his family, and Comitus chews scenery in order to show us how much he wants to get that pesky Maximus. For his next birthday, I'm buying Ridley Scott a dictionary and highlighting the word "subtlety."

This movie leaves me with a very important question: Did ancient Romans all sound like Oxford-educated Brits having tea and crumpets during scheming time? I'm pretty sure that Shakespeare did not set any bills into law that required you to feign a high-falutin' accent when portraying Romans. Our actors do it here (perhaps in homage/imitation of Richard "The Lionhearted" Harris, who plays the elder Caesar) to pretentious effect. We are pushed away from these nobler-than-thou characters, who we've got no business spying on, but dammit, I paid ten bucks to warm this seat, so I'm staying.

No doubt, Gladiator will get at least one Oscar nod, as our friends at the Academy love a good ham any time of the year. This is very much a Hollywood style movie, with all the pomp and manipulation that the dream factory affords it. I say skip it, or wait for video.


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