"Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife, and I shall have my vengeance..." When a Roman general is betrayed and sold into slavery, he is forced to become a gladiator. Ridley Scott delivers Colosseum-filling action with Russell Crowe putting sweat, sword and sandal into his Oscar-winning performance. A deliciously oily Joaquin Phoenix is his imperial nemesis while even his mid-production death couldn't keep Oliver Reed out of the picture. Are you not entertained?!
It is 180AD, and the Roman army is finishing the military campaign in Germania that will put an end to resistance against the Empire.
Leading the troops is General Maximus (Crowe) - a valiant warrior, humble farmer and favourite of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Harris).
Though Maximus wishes only to return home to his family at the end of the war, the ailing Aurelius wants him to become the next emperor, trusting him to give the power back to the people and so return Rome to a republic.
This understandably troubles the true heir to the throne, Marcus Aurelius' son Commodus (Phoenix). Following his father's untimely death, he orders Maximus' execution before the Emperor's will is known.
Maximus escapes death, only to be enslaved by gladiator owner Proximo (Reed) and the story begins to wind down the road of revenge.
As a basic film story, Gladiator is absorbing, but what makes it a classic is the stunning visual beauty in its re-creation of ancient Rome.
Ridley Scott takes an age-old formula and utilises it remarkably well, enhancing but never over-doing it with digital effects that help raise the ruins of the Colosseum and capture the magnificence and casual brutality of the culture.
The scenes of warfare and gladiatorial contests leave nothing to the imagination but the violence never feels gratuitous as every scene, and the film as a whole flaunts purpose.
Crowe plays Maximus as straight as he possibly can, giving him an iconic grandeur and Phoenix makes a sensational snivelling villain, wrapping his incestuous lechery after his sister Lucilla (Nielsen) in a pathetically sincere need to be adored.