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Guts and Glory

I've been watching all the movies that won the Oscar for Best Picture. Next on my list was the 2000 winner, Gladiator, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, and Connie Nielson.

Gladiator is an historical action film, following a Roman general who falls out of favor with the new leader and must fight for his freedom as a gladiator. The movie takes a graphic look at the harsh realities of the violence that passed, in Roman times, for entertainment.

The other nominees for Best Picture that year were Chocolat; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Erin Brockovich and Traffic. In addition to Best Picture, Gladiator also won Best Actor in a Leading Role (Crowe); Best Costume Design; Best Effects, Visual Effects; and Best Sound.

Gladiator poster

For the first Best Picture winner of the new millennium, Oscar voters seemed nostalgic for the past, selecting a film that was, in many ways, a classic historical piece over the innovative multilayered tale about drug trafficking, Traffic. Interestingly, though, Steven Soderbergh would win best director over Scott. Perhaps this was an acknowledgment of the fact that Soderbergh had also directed another Best Picture nominee that year, Erin Brockovich.

Scott's film, by contrast, tells a simple story: following the journey of Maximus (Crowe) as he goes from army general to lowly gladiator, forced to fight his way out of slavery. While such a tale, if told in the 1960s and starring, say, Charlton Heston, would have glorified his time in the ring, Gladiator instead takes an unblinking, gory look at the brutal "sport" where those who lose the match also lose their lives.

While the film could easily be dismissed as a "sword and sandals" flick, Scott strives to do more with the film, giving it a framework reminiscent to a Shakespearean tragedy. In addition to focusing on the struggles of Maximus, the film shows the corruption of the Roman government and elevates the struggle of Maximus to a struggle for ideals and for hope.

The film production had its troubles, such as the death of Oliver Reed, who played Proximo, the freed slave who now marshals the gladiators. After he died of a heart attack, some of his scenes had to be re-edited using a double, photographed in the shadows and using a 3D CGI mask of Reed's face.

While shooting the opening battle scene, Crowe suffered real injuries to his face, and the stitches are visible in some later scenes. During later battle scenes, Crowe broke bones in his foot and his hip, and injured both bicep tendons.

The script was rewritten several times, including during the filming. Crowe improvised some of his lines, and he often expressed displeasure with the lines he was given.

Phoenix, as Commodus, the selfish, egotistical young Roman leader, is a bit of a scenery chewer. It's as if he's trying to out-Caligula Caligula. The subplot involving his sister, Lucilla, is squirm-inducing but ultimately unbelievable.

Crowe's turn as Maximus, though, is one of the film's saving graces. He plays the former general not as a crusading hero but as a man, beset by troubles, who nevertheless perseveres. Some would argue that's what true heroism is all about.

Rating: *** 1/2 (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Sword and sandals movies are harsher in the new millennium.

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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 18th, 2010 02:13 am (UTC)
On moviebuffs, the consensus is that the score is one of the more remarkable aspects of the film.
Nov. 18th, 2010 01:50 am (UTC)
I want to see the extended cut version. I love the movie.
Nov. 18th, 2010 02:12 am (UTC)
So does my husband. He owns a copy of it, which I didn't know or I wouldn't have bothered renting it from Blockbuster.com.
Nov. 18th, 2010 02:19 am (UTC)
I used blockbuster, unitl the blockbuster near me closed. Now I have netflix and I like it more because I can watch the on demand section. They don't have everything on there, but there's enough, and it's included in the monthly cost.
Nov. 18th, 2010 04:34 am (UTC)
The one closest to us closed, too, but there's still one within driving distance. Blockbuster.com also has an option that allows you to download movies, but we have yet to try that out.
Nov. 18th, 2010 03:47 am (UTC)
Though I do love this movie... it's a fun watch... I think that Geoffrey Rush got SCREWED out of the Best Actor Oscar for his depiction of the Marquis de Sade in Quills. Russell Crowe did a fine job as Maximus but I don't think he did anything extraordinary. Geoffrey Rush on the other hand was flat out amazing in the role.
Nov. 18th, 2010 04:35 am (UTC)
I REMEMBER that! I was watching that night, thinking, "Really? Russell Crowe over Geoffrey Rush?" I didn't understand the whole "Gladiator" phenomenon. "Quills" was an excellent film, mostly because of Geoffrey Rush.
Nov. 18th, 2010 12:27 pm (UTC)
I don't recall being particularly impressed with this one,
but I may watch it again sometime...
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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