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Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielson, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris

During the ‘50s and ‘60s, the ‘sword and sandals’ movie was huge. Jason and The Argonauts, Spartacus and Clash of the Titans were the classics of their day, and their popularity should have secured the future of the genre. Sadly those stories of legendary warriors and larger-than-life heroes fell by the wayside. Until the year 2000 when Ridley Scott, director of Alien, Thelma & Louise and Blade Runner, took the ballsy decision to have a go at the long-forgotten genre with Gladiator.

Featuring the talents of Russell Crowe, the intense Joaquin Phoenix and the beautiful Connie Nielson, the film was an instant success and revived the genre for a whole new generation with other classics such as 300 and Troy.

The film would also be the swansong for the legendary Oliver Reed and featured Richard Harris in one of his final performances as the troubled, world-weary Marcus Aurelius.

The film tells the story of Maximus (Crowe), the Roman general who experiences the most spectacular fall from grace. Betrayed by Commodus (Phoenix), the son of the dying Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Maximus is sold as a slave and must fight for his life in Rome’s Colosseum, whilst trying to take his revenge on Commodus for the murder of his wife and child.

It’s a moving story, and one which features Russell Crowe having to flex his creative muscles in getting to grips with the ever-honourable Maximus. Too often with war films, the main hero is one-dimensional, played by actors who can only carry the action sequences and not the story. That is not the case here, with Crowe’s portrayal of Maximus’ struggle being nothing short of the best performance of his career.

In Joaquin Phoenix, Ridley Scott has found the perfect choice for the bitter Commodus. Phoenix really gets to the heart of Commodus’ jealousy, and crucially, allows himself to be that rare Hollywood treat: a villain who is both deplorable and pitiable.

The film uses the up-and-coming modern CGI tastefully in recreating the vast city of Rome and, in particular, the epic structure of the Colosseum. In Scott’s use of CGI, he set the benchmark in how computer imagery should be used: to bolster the reality of the performances, not detract from it, and as such you never feel like what you’re seeing has been in part digitally created.

Gladiator is every bit as epic as the story would suggest, and is a must have for every home’s DVD shelf. If you can, splashing out that extra couple of quid for the blu ray edition is recommended, with the film being one of the finest displays of blu ray HD quality. If you don’t already own a copy: go buy one. You’ll see just what all the fuss is about.


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