The emperor's son, Commodus, then arrives with his sister Lucilla, and it is discovered that Commodus fully expects to be announced the new emperor of Rome in a few days. Aurelius, however, has other plans--he wants to make Maximus emperor, and requests that of the general, who wants nothing more than to go home to his family.
I went into this movie having just watched Ben-Hur in my film studies class and having watched an episode of Xena only a couple of weeks earlier that featured the story of Marc Anthony and Cleopatra. So you could say I was in the perfect mindset to watch a "sword-and-sandal" movie. I wasn't sure what to expect, having somehow avoided all the hype that accompanied this movie. But I was not disappointed.
Gladiator features some wonderful cinematography by John Mathieson. The battle scenes are very graphic. (This movie is not for the squeamish, that's for sure.) There were some scenes in particular that really struck me, such as when Crowe appears to be floating over the ground very fast. The use of color and color tones added a great deal to the mood of the movie. Excellent.
The script was being written and re-written as the filming was going on, yet it doesn't show that the actors had no idea how the movie was going to end when they began filming. The acting is terrific. Russell Crowe is wonderfully cast as Maximus. Many reviewers agree that he is now officially a star. Joaquin Phoenix also proves his mettle as the emotionally troubled Commodus, whose behavior and emotion toward his sister could give anyone the creeps. Connie Nielsen makes you believe that, as Lucilla, she really is torn between natural loyalty to her brother and doing what she knows is right. Oliver Reed, in his last performance, is memorable in his role of Proximo, the former gladiator who is the owner of Maximus and brings him to Rome. In short, the actors were brilliant in their roles, not over-acting, but giving subtle, strong performances.
The script itself is very good. Although some elements are a little hard to believe--the fact that no one recognizes Maximus when he's a slave?--this film calls for a willing suspension of disbelief, which one would happily comply with. (It's really no fun to nitpick such a movie.)
It's true that this movie does pretty much follow the Braveheart formula. However, this movie includes some elements, such as the cinematography and the incredibly graphic battle scenes (one reviewer likened it to Saving Private Ryan, "only better"), that are spectacular in itself. Overall, a great movie that I highly recommend.