Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by David H. Franzoni, John Logan & William Nicholson
Starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Oliver Reed, Connie Nielson, Richard Harris
My Advice: Don't Miss It.
Maximus (Crowe) is not an Autobot, he's in actuality a Roman general, who is running out of non-Roman ass to kick on the European continent. He's anxious to return to his wife and child and put his military career behind him. However, his emperor, Marcus Aurelius (Harris), calls upon him to undertake an important mission to bring Rome back to greatness--but this task will put Maximus directly at odds with Marcus' own son, Commodus (Phoenix). And let me tell you, if there's one thing you did not do in the Roman Empire, it's get in the way of someone vying for the title of Caesar.
Let me make one thing clear--this is not a film designed to make you stroke your chin and make that humming noise that you do when you're trying to remember what the hell was that fifth item you needed from the grocery store when you're standing on aisle six, okay? This is a big, massive epic that is designed to punt your ass through the back wall of the cinema, and like many other Ridley Scott flicks will just get better with repeated viewings. From the opening battle in Germania, where the camera gets caught up in the action and confusion that generally results from having lots of people in armor and lots of people in animal skins try to disembowel each other, this movie starts a slow crawl and moves rather slowly. You start to wonder what you've gotten yourself into, but the performances are just strong enough to keep you interested until suddenly you're in the Roman coliseum and the roller coaster just crested and dipped downward.
Russell Crowe is showing his penchant for raw physical power, not to mention range (remember, he was a paunchy, fiftysomething tobaccologist with thinning hair last time we saw him on screen). I never for one moment doubted his character or his motives. It's always good to see Richard Harris and Derek Jacobi onscreen, but moreso it was wonderful and saddening to see Oliver Reed in the cinema again...and for the last time. What we do see of him was enough to remind me that he will be truly, truly missed. Connie Nielsen does well as the eldest daughter of Marcus, who tries to be conniving and yet still have enough heart to care for her son (Spencer Treat Clark). However--the true surprise of the film was Joaquin Phoenix's Commodus, who, apart from being unfortunately named, is just... damn...evil. I can't remember the last time I wanted so much for a particular character to be broken into small unrecognizable pieces. He's not your average boo-hiss villain, because that's easy enough to do--but Phoenix brings a quiet, venomous menace to the part that speaks worlds for him as a thesp. Well done.
And as for the CGI in the film--yowzah. The shots of Rome are incredible, the opening battle mind-blowing, and even the ability to bring Oliver Reed back from the grave to finish out the movie is kinda humbling in its own way. And if you're wise, will you see parallels to our modern world? Oh, no, of course not.
Make no mistake--this is spectacle and gore and riot--much like the bloodsport that forms the film's core. However--whereas other films would simply lean on that gore like a crutch, this film uses it as a tool and not the entire Sears hardware store. This is the kind of movie Braveheart will someday grow up to be and it should not be missed.
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