High-Tech to the Maxims; Gladiator (15) Verdict: Swords, Sandals and Sensationalism HHHHI Snow Falling on Cedars (15) Verdict: And Icy Indifference Settling over the Audience HHIII

Daily Mail (London), May 12, 2000 | Go to article overview

High-Tech to the Maxims; Gladiator (15) Verdict: Swords, Sandals and Sensationalism HHHHI Snow Falling on Cedars (15) Verdict: And Icy Indifference Settling over the Audience HHIII


Byline: CHRISTOPHER TOOKEY

GLADIATOR is the kind of sword-and-sandals spectacular that seemed to have died out 40 years ago, with Spartacus.

However, it's back - and great fun.

Director Ridley Scott is just the man to re-imagine Ancient Rome in all its glory and brutality.

The Roman Colosseum - partly built, partly computer-generated is marvellously realised. The action sequences, whether they be men fighting tigers or a high-speed chariot battle, are tremendous.

The opening spectacle of a Roman army overcoming the Germanic tribes amid oceans of mud (actually shot near Farnham, Surrey) is a scene to rival anything in Brave-heart.

Indeed, Ridley Scott's coverage is plainly influenced by Spielberg's portrayal of the Normandy landings in Saving Private Ryan.

Scott is an expert at using landscape to denote characters' emotions - this was one of the undervalued strengths in the way he directed Thelma And Louise - and he uses this talent to great effect throughout Gladiator. The work by British cinematographer John Matheson is as lyrical as it is thrilling.

STORYWISE, the formula is pretty much as it was when Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas used to do this kind of thing. A handsome, hunky, if not particularly humorous, hero is reduced to slavery but wins through against his eminently hissable enemies.

One of the film's biggest assets is Russell Crowe who is, as he showed in L.A. Confidential and The Insider, a very fine actor. Here, he is a long way from the paunchy, middle-aged scientist he played in The Insider.

Yet you can believe in him as Maximus, a brave Spanish general favoured by the Emperor Marcus

.....

Aurelius (Richard Harris) to take over the empire and ensure that it is governed by the Senate under the kindly guidance of Gracchus, played by Derek Jacobi.

However, the Emperor's son Com-modus (Joaquin Phoenix) has other ideas and murders his father before he can make the plan public. Not only this: he orders Maximus to be executed, and his wife and son to be burned - and crucified.

Though Maximus escapes, he is captured, enslaved and then turned into a gladiator by the owner of a touring gladiator company (Oliver Reed in his last film, brought back to life by computer magic for his final scenes).

Whereupon Maximus is brought to Rome, wows the audience and his fellow-slaves, is elevated to superstardom and finally gets the chance to gain his revenge on Commodus.

The script is nothing if not ponderous and po-faced, but Crowe invests it with quiet heroism, brooding menace and gravitas. His accent has a tendency to turn Antipodean in moments of stress, but he has that Charlton Heston quality of not making you laugh, however pompous the dialogue. He makes it seem the most natural thing in the world to conduct a man-to-man swordfight in a skirt, while a live tiger is mauling his shoulders. …

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High-Tech to the Maxims; Gladiator (15) Verdict: Swords, Sandals and Sensationalism HHHHI Snow Falling on Cedars (15) Verdict: And Icy Indifference Settling over the Audience HHIII
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