Reviewer: Charity Bishop
What we do in life echoes in eternity.
Over the years, Gladiator has become my favorite film of the last two decades, if not for all time. There's nothing weak about it, from its characters to its plot. It is an example of the best of the movies.
Rome rules the territories from Israel to the coast of Ireland. The greatest military leader of the age, Maximus (Russell Crowe), is favored by the emperor to succeed him in power. Caesar (Richard Harris) believes Rome has been corrupted and knows the people are unhappy with the current government. His desire is to instill a republic where the senate and elected officials will have more power than the emperor. Maximus is a natural leader. The people follow him without question... if he could persuade those in power in Rome of the merit in this plan, Caesar's dreams of a self-governed nation would come to pass. But his son and heir Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) stands in his way. A power-hungry, mentally deranged man who has long sought his father's good opinion, the future emperor of Rome is not about to let solitary rule to slip through his fingertips. Commodus murders his father and asks the allegiance of Maximus to the throne. The general scorns him and is punished. Maximus is taken into the wood to be executed, his family to share the same fate.
Commodus' half sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) knows her brother's evil nature, suspects he had a hand in their father's death, and must constantly reject his overly friendly affections. Intending to betray him with the assistance of Rome's most rebellious senators, her plan is further complicated when Maximus returns to their lives, in the most unexpected of places. These elements combine into a story that represents Rome very well: the magnificent buildings, the violence of the gladiator games, the cheering of the crowd. We have a wronged hero who must fight to survive, a beautiful woman in distress, and the cruel villain, who in key scenes reveals a childlike helplessness. Gladiator's script is rich with authentic characters and memorable dialogue. The grand scale and costuming are impressive, the acting is first-rate, the CGI is incredible, and it has a powerful conclusion.
Though it can be a bit brutal at times (there is far more plot than gore), there's nothing I would change about it. The pleasure of seeing such an excellent cast (which also includes Derek Jacobi, Oliver Reed, and Djimon Hounsou), and the historical accuracy bring back the grand days of cinema when epic tales graced the screen.
Commodus indicates a sexual interest in his half-sister; he tells her she will bear him an heir and almost kisses her once. Slaves appear in loincloths. There is a reference to rape, and gladiators "pleasuring" women.
Men are stabbed, beheaded (twice), shot with arrows, impaled, and set on fire. There is some blood spray in certain scenes. A female gladiator is cut in half (we see her fall). A tiger is stabbed and killed. We see a weapon go through a man's foot.
Other: Maximus prays to his ancestors for protection before small wooden idols.