Gladiator holds promise for a heroic story with a liberal dosing of medieval battles. In the end, I am left with a feeling that the film is a blatant retread of Braveheart and other more successful varieties of the "hero fighting for freedom and revenge" plot. Our hero, Maximus, spouts several turgid speeches that sound as if they were ripped directly from Braveheart, and his lack of emotional power render his recitations tepid and uninspiring. Maximus' forgettable dearth of emotionalized feeling when his family is mercilessly slaughtered is nauseating. Crowe's entire role is too halfhearted (he won Best Actor!?!?), helped little by the mimetic script. Don't even get me started on the implicit affection between Maximus and the emperor's sister, which was retch-inducingly contrived.
The battle scenes are ambitious in their orchestration, but ultimately they are filmed poorly thanks to erratic camera movement that forsake clarity or the exhilarating involvement of, say, Saving Private Ryan. Admittedly, the chariot battle is stunning, with its breathless sense of urgency that the filmmakers captured here. But why didn't they do it for the rest of the movie? It doesn't help that the different battles seem like disparate events unforgivingly adhered to an existing story line to add violent physical conflict. What Maximus is fighting for becomes unclear amidst the series of battles, which lack fiery emotional intensity that SHOULD be present when someone is fighting for freedom and revenege. One area that deserves accolade is the incredible sound. All around, you can hear arrows whiz by, the cacophony of clashing steel, and anguished screams. Very impressive!
And then comes the big kick in the face: the woeful anticlimax. I won't go into detail, but prepare to be disappointed. Suffice to say, Maximus becomes a martyr, but what did he accomplish? Bad, regurgitated speeches? Passionless action? Great work!
Gladiator may have been a better movie if it had been thirty minutes shorter, cut out the sordid insinuations of romance, and had more chariot battles. But when you're making a big Hollywood blockbuster, you've gotta have reams of dross to guarantee it sells.
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