Best of the Decade #5: Gladiator
“Are you not entertained?”
Everyone has seen the film, recognizes the character and knows the quotes. There are some movies that just simply define a generation. Past generations had movies like The Graduate or Bonnie and Clyde. Our generation has Titanic and Gladiator. Most of us remember seeing them in theaters, own the DVD’s and can’t help but watch them whenever they show up on cable. While people are somewhat split on whether or not Titanic is a true masterpiece, I have yet to find someone who disputes the greatness of Ridley Scott’s 2000 epic, Gladiator.
The box-office and critical success of Gladiator single-handedly reignited the genre of “Swords and Sandals Epic.” Imitators like Troy, Alexander, King Arthur and 300 soon followed but none of them matched the greatness of Gladiator. Director Ridley Scott and star Russell Crowe have gone on to make three more films together (with the fourth, summer 2010’s Robin Hood, currently in post-production), but all that follow will have to measure up to the very tall stick that is Gladiator.
Scott is one of the world’s greatest and most versatile directors, but Gladiator gave him acclaim that he hadn’t experienced since 1982’s Blade Runner. This decade has marked somewhat of a career resurgence for him. He has made a total of eight feature films in the 2000’s, which is by far the most productive he has ever been over a ten-year span. Gladiator is also one of his most impressive technical achievements. The computer generated Coliseum is a sight to behold, and is still believable to this day. Eastwood’s audience in the Invictus rugby arena pales in comparison, even though it was made 9 years later.
For Crowe, his role as Maximus followed some fantastic performances in L.A. Confidential and The Insider but Gladiator was really the movie that established him as a star. His performances in The Insider and A Beautiful Mind might be more complex and all together better but it is impossible to deny the power of his on-screen presence in this film. He commands attention from the viewer in every scene, giving a truly captivating and memorable performance.
And finally, it would be wrong to talk about Gladiator without mentioning Joaquin Phoenix. A relative unknown at the time, he was impossible not to hate as the conniving and cowardly Commodus.
Gladiator won five Academy Awards in 2001, including Best Picture and Best Actor. More importantly, it is a movie that stands the test of time and has stood up to multiple (probably at least a dozen) viewings. It is a classic for our generation, and will no doubt continue to entertain audiences for generations to come.