Ancient Rome comes alive in breathtaking detail in Ridley Scott’s historical epic that presents the esteemed filmmaker in sublime form for Gladiator is truly monumental in both scope of its ambition & scale of its production, is easily amongst the greatest spectacles to surface on the big screen, and is an extraordinary feat of its genre that not only scores high marks in its technical aspects but is equally accomplished in the storytelling department, thus succeeding as a masterpiece of epic filmmaking that delivers on all fronts.
The story of Gladiator follows Maximus Decimus Meridius, a loyal general who after leading the Roman army to victory in a decisive battle finds himself betrayed when Commodus (son of the Emperor) murders his father & takes the throne for himself. Arrested & sentenced to death, Maximus manages to escape but is unable to save his family and is then taken captive by slavers. Driven by retribution, the general who’s reduced to a slave trains as a gladiator and ultimately returns to Rome to avenge the murders of his family as well as his King.
Directed by Ridley Scott, Gladiator is the perfect exemplification of all his trademarks and is undoubtedly his finest output since the 1979 horror classic, Alien, for the level of detail in every frame of this fable is absolutely staggering. His direction also exhibits a much better control on the narrative elements than most of his works and for a historical drama, it is expertly paced. The screenplay packs in an interesting set of characters, their arc is methodically progressed, and despite the subplots related to supporting figures, the focus remains on Maximus throughout its runtime.
As far as elements of technical filmmaking go, Gladiator is nothing short of a marvel. Production design team does a magnificent job in putting up set pieces that are grand, imposing & meticulously refined with the real standout being the Colosseum itself which is undeniably a sight to behold. The culture, politics & life within the Roman Empire is illustrated in splendid detail. Costumes, artefacts & other props are in sync with the timeline its story is set in but it also incorporates a slightly urban touch to it that brings a flavour of its own into the picture and enhances the look & feel of the whole imagery.
Cinematography makes precise use of nearly all the techniques in the book at just the right moments whether it’s the slow-mo shots, chaotic camerawork, time-lapse photography, panning shots, close-ups, zoom-ins & zoom-outs, and the reason why every bit of it works is because none of it is overused. Even the colour palette ranges from cold to warm tones, numerous filters are used for differentiating locations, and lighting is pitch-perfect. Editing provides a steady pace to the whole narrative plus the unfolding of events is effectively controlled considering that its 155 minutes of runtime never becomes an issue.
Visual effects team also deserves kudos for restoring the Colosseum to the glory of its heyday with CGI assistance but its use is still minimal for most of the effects in the picture are practical yet it all looks incredibly authentic. However, what really uplifts the entire experience and provides Gladiator its sense of grandness is Hans Zimmer’s majestic score for it comprises of tracks that are rousing & resonant and effortlessly match the film’s colossal magnitude. The best bits are saved for battle sequences but that doesn’t mean the soundtrack isn’t able to enrich other moments for it, as a whole, remains one of the most celebrated compositions of Zimmer’s career.
Coming to the performances, Gladiator features a reliable cast in Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielson, Oliver Reed, Derek Jacobi, Djimon Hounsou, Richard Harris & others. Leading from the front is Crowe in what still remains his finest work to date. The ruggedness of his voice combined with the comfort Crowe exhibits in the skin of Maximus makes him a commanding figure worthy of respect and impressive enough for viewers to invest their emotions in. Phoenix is thoroughly committed to his role and makes up for an interesting antagonist. Nielson chips in with a terrific input to stand out in a cast filled with men while Reed, Jacobi & Hounsou play their given roles in a wise manner.
On an overall scale, Gladiator manages to live up to its larger-than-life story of a general who became a slave who became a gladiator who defied an emperor and is thematically rich, technically accomplished & spectacularly entertaining from beginning to end. Ingeniously directed, deftly written, gorgeously photographed, smartly edited, outstandingly scored & strongly performed, this epic is engaging from the first frame, is brought to life with great care & attention to detail, and benefits immensely from an assured filmmaker at helm. Holding back nothing, packed with memorable quotes and boasting many astounding moments over the course of its runtime, Gladiator is a cinematic treasure that’s worthy of all its accolades. One hundred percent recommended.