Movie Review

Gladiator

MPAA Rating: R for intense graphic combat

Reviewed by: Emmett W. Elliott
CONTRIBUTOR

Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adult
Genre:
Action Adventure
Length:
2 hr. 35 min.
Year of Release:
2000
USA Release:
May 5, 2000 (wide)
Copyright, DreamWorks Distribution click photos to ENLARGE Scene from Gladiator (photo copyrighted by Dreamworks SKG).
Relevant Issues
Russell Crowe as a Gladiator.

Rome in the Bible

idolatry

bravery, courage

Featuring: Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Russell Crowe, Oliver Reed, Djimon Hounsou
Director: Ridley Scott
Producer: DreamWorks SKG
Universal Pictures
Scott Free Productions
Mill Film
C & L
Dawliz
Red Wagon Entertainment
Laurie MacDonald, Walter Parkes, David H. Franzoni, Douglas Wick, Steven Spielberg
Distributor: Dreamworks Distribution

Director Ridley Scott, who also directed the sci-fi cult movies “Alien” and “Blade Runner”, does not resort to sexual titillation in “Gladiator”. The film only hints that deviant sexual behavior may have taken place when Lucilla (Connie Nelson) must endure the incestuous advances of her own brother Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Instead of the usual Hollywood dosage of bare skin on screen, Scott exploits violence. In short, “Gladiator” is a gory computer-generated special effects blockbuster.

“Gladiator” begins in 180 A.D. with General Maximus (Russell Crowe) about to vanquish the last threatening barbaric horde. Scott engages the moviegoer with a grand opening battle scene reminiscent of “Saving Private Ryan.” The ensuing bloodbath contains close-ups of clashing metal, blood, beheadings, and dismembered body parts much like sequences seen in “Braveheart.”

The hero of the movie, Maximus, is comparable to William Wallace who announced in “Braveheart”, “I came home to raise crops, and God willing, a family. If I can live in peace, I will.” Likewise, General Maximus yearns to return to his Spanish farmland and reunite with his wife and son; however, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) has another plan for his beloved general.

Jealousy overpowers the morally flawed Commodus when he discovers that his father, ruling the empire as an expansionist dictator, favors Maximus to protect Rome until the Senate assumes enough power for Rome to govern as a Republic once again. Reminiscent of the first murder ever recorded, a jealous Cain slew Abel in Genesis 4:8, Commodus asphyxiates his father to become the new emperor. Subsequently, Emperor Commodus orders the execution of Maximus and his family.

Unbeknownst to Commodus, Maximus survives his execution only to be enslaved by his saviors. He is purchased as a slave by Proximo (Oliver Reed) and forced to entertain the people (“the mob”) as a deadly gladiator. Maximus unites with Juba (Djimon Hounsou) and Hagen (former Mr. Universe Ralph Moeller) as fellow gladiators. Maximus quickly displays his superior skills as a warrior to emerge as a champion among the gladiators. The mob coins him “The Spaniard” and at times is even silenced by his unique talent as a killer of men.

Meanwhile in Rome, Commodus refuses to listen to the advice from the Senate. Instead of dealing with important domestic issues, Commodus chooses to focus his visionless political agenda on maintaining happiness among the mob by reopening the barbaric gladiator games in the spectacular Roman Coliseum. To Commodus, it does not matter how he governs as long as his poll ratings are high as best sampled during the games. This governing policy lasts until Proximo brings his band of gladiators to Rome where Maximus quickly wins the crowd over. To make matters increasingly difficult for the emperor, Maximus openly defies the emperor after each victory. Once again, fancy abandons Commodus for Maximus. The plot thickens leading to the eventual main event between the jealous Commodus and the mob’s newfound hero, Maximus.

Unfortunately, Scott was careful enough to censor any mention of Christianity (at least the theater/video version… the DVD release reportedly does have a powerful and prayerful scene where Maximus watches as Christians are fed to the lions). Maximus hopes to reunite with his family in the afterlife, but what kind of afterlife? In a time when Christianity was sweeping across Rome, I wished that our gladiator had been a converted Christian.

The performances are uniformly good, but most moviegoers will select this film for the action sequences and special effects seen briefly in the trailers. The computer-generated graphics enhance the action sequences and recreate a glorious Roman world albeit void of Christianity. Due to this major oversight, “Gladiator” falls short of classic and offers new meaning to the movie’s tagline: “A hero will rise.”


Viewer Comments
My wife and I rarely go to “R” movies because they are generally not fit for consumption. However, we make the occasional exception when there is a cultural/historical significance involved. “Gladiator” is a great movie (and worthy exception)—but don’t go watch it if you are squeamish. The violence is not excessive or gratuitous—it is merely realistic and accurate for the situations involved (battles and gladiatorial combat).

Also, I have noticed several commentators wanted Christianity to be more prominent. Frankly, this would only add to any historical inaccuracies in “Gladiator”. Christianity had begun its rise in the late second century, but was by no means prevalent in Italy (N. Africa and Asia were its strongholds at this time).

Secondly, Early Christians did not believe in killing in any form—including serving in the military. The Early Christians condemned the gladiatorial games and military service and would not have been above disciplining those who involved themselves in these activities out of spiritual weakness. For a further understanding of Christian views on war/killing in the Early Church, I recommend one read translations of the Church Fathers. One valuable, brief synthesis of the material is “Early Christians Speak” by Everett Ferguson.

I recommend “Gladiator”—it gives one a richer perspective on the Roman Empire and its mindset. This can only help Christians when reading their New Testaments. My Ratings: [2½/5]
—Charles Babb, age 26
I greatly anticipated this film and it turned out to be even better than I’d hoped. The action sequences, though very violent and probably not good for kids, make the movie exciting and keep the viewer on the edge of the seat. Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Maximus is outstanding. Maximus provides a great example of leadership and self-sacrifice throughout the film. The film also provides a nice insight into what true power is. The emperor longs for power and the love of the people, but can’t seem to grasp it, while Maximus’ integrity (along with some pretty nifty swordplay) make him a great leader. A great film! My Ratings: [3/5]
—Chris Johnson, age 22
…The movie brings a new meaning to historical inaccuracy. It wasn’t the ending (a complete joke to historians), the use of unpainted busts, Commodus’ 17th century wardrobe or the inclusion of an archery wing in the army that upset me. It was the CHALKBOARD! Otherwise the predictable plot, under-achieving script and complete dismissal of all literary devices make this movie a complete waste of time. However, it is worth a big screen viewing of a reconstructed Rome—just do it at the $1.50 cinema. My Ratings: [3/1½]
—Bill, age 25
This movie is a mixed bag. As a graduate of a history program, it was packed full of both historical nuggets and fallacies. I won’t go into all of the details, but the attention to detail was very minute in this movie. Ridley Scott seems to have consulted historians on the way a Roman army fought in 180 A.D. The visuals were stunning. Scott has proven himself again in this department. Like “Alien” and “Blade Runner”, he creates a world into which the viewer is absorbed.

The acting was top notch. Several English character actors (Harris, Jacobi, Reed) bolstered the excellent casting of Russell Crowe as Maximus.

The down side is both the content and the message sent by the film. If you take it in historical context, it is outwardly harmless. (If you don’t think the violence will scar you.) Also, paganism is quite rampant in the film. Once again, if taken in context, it is harmless. Bottom line: Don’t take children or young adults with underdeveloped minds to see this movie. My Ratings: [2½/4½]
—Brian Patton, age 25
This is the best film I’ve seen since “Braveheart”. An amazing portrayal of second century Rome. From the shots of the city approaching from miles away to the details of the Coliseum, it is a breathtaking interpretation. My two 17 year old sons saw it with me. One thought it was bloody, the other not. The bloodiest parts are handled artistically, with staccato scene changes and blurred images. One swear word in the movie and no sex. I recommend this film to those who love historical drama. Not for young children, though, as some scenes are two intense. My Ratings: [3½/5]
—Ron Reames, age 53
We thought “Gladiator” was fabulous. The main character Maximus was a man of principle, despite severe trials. Comparisons could be made to Joseph who was also sold into slavery, yet rose to prominence. The acting is superb and the cinematography and special effects are incredible. While there is much violence, it is appropriate to the violent world in which the movie is set. Even though it is set in 179 A.D. Christianity specifically is not mentioned, there are scenes of prayer and of an afterlife. It’s not Maximus’ fault he wasn’t witnessed to. Two thumbs up. My Ratings: [3/5]
—Deanna and Esther, age 36
While reading all the reviews of this movie, I wondered if I saw the same “Gladiator”. Why did hardly anyone like this movie? It was very well put together, and while there was a lot of blood, this movie should be commended for not using the Lord’s name at all. There was one usage of the “s” and “b” word’s, but that was all. Russell Crowe gave the best performance of his career. I highly recommend this movie. My Ratings: [2½/4½]
—Dustin, age 14
“Gladiator” is a return to Hollywood of yore, with epic settings, massive crowds, and heroes galore. Though incredibly violent, the movie does lay out a good story with memorable characters, without treading into areas where it doesn’t belong… From a Christian standpoint, there’s not too much to push this film in either direction. There’s no cursing, no nudity, and none of the depravity that was Rome in the second century A.D. There is plenty of violence and gore, and it’s strongly implied that Commodus is a creepy little pervert, but the movie does not feel a need to dwell on either. The offensive elements are there simply to tell the story… Maximus is a god-fearing person, but it’s not Jesus he fears. That reason is also what keeps this film from being an artistic masterpiece. There does seem to be a lack of accuracy—most notably in the complete lack of Christians in the film… My Ratings: [2/4½]
—Scott Ward, age 27
Despite the violence, this was a very thought-provoking movie. The historical atmosphere is very accurate, giving a good feel for the world of the Roman soldier and gladiator. Rome at its height was a corrupt, decadent, and bloody society where life was cheap. It is no wonder the message of Christ appealed to many in the Empire. This movie accurately depicts the emptiness of a pagan society and the corruption of power. I have gained a new appreciation for the early Church, seeing the world they had to face. My Ratings: [3/4]
—Tyler Johnson, age 21
This movie is about standing up and fighting for your family and your country. Although there is violence within the movie, it is there for plot development not for gratuitousness. From a Christian perspective there is nothing in the movie which a discerning Christian would have any problems with. Indeed, the actions of the main hero are very Christlike. There is some mention of plurality of Gods, however in that era, this was quite common amongst those who did not believe in Christ. My Ratings: [4½/5]
—Neil Shaw, age 38
Great plot and action! The movie kept me on the edge of my seat. The lead actor was great and really was a noble figure deserving of both sympathy and admiration. From a Christian standpoint, this was a figure exemplifying virtues such as loyalty, hard work, patience, trustworthiness. Very intense from a violence standpoint, but emotionally touching as well. Very similar to “Braveheart” in the emotions it elicited from me. Not for kids! My Ratings: [2½/5]
—Ralph de Leon, age 42
“Gladiator” is surely to be one of the best films of the year. With its sweeping production values and astonishing scenery, “Gladiator” is the first true epic film since “Titanic” and the first film about the Roman Empire in almost 40 years. It’s absolutely breathtaking… From a Christian standpoint, “Gladiator” has only one offensive weak point: its extreme violence. The fight scenes are brutal, gory, and totally raw. There is no sex or language whatsoever. If you get a chance to see this film, do it in a theater with a massive screen and a top notch sound system. “Gladiator” is by all means a terrific masterpiece. My Ratings: [2/5]
—Gabe Rodriguez, age 19
“Do ya like gladiator movies?” Well, I sure do now… While establishing several currents, one of “Gladiator”’s chief themes is the symbiotic relation between the Colosseum’s mob and those who would seek its favour. It never becomes quite clear whether it is the masses who rule the gladiators or the gladiators who rule the masses. And more amazing is the fact that Scott’s deft film work so immerses the audience into the flavor of the screen that the audience becomes in a very real sense, one with the mob. It feels the excitement when they do. It cringes when they do. It roots for its favorite just as they do.

This disturbing reality so intrigued me that I could not help noticing similarities between the Colosseum and Hollywood itself: two dynamic monstrosities which both feed and are fed by their audiences’ bottomless appetites.

Technically, “Gladiator” is a wonder to behold. Frenetic camera work and editing emphasize the surreal—though blistering—pace of battle. Strange filters and time-lapse photography during Maximus’ afterlife-reveries are fantastic and recall similar practice in Joan of Arc’s visions in Luc Besson’s “The Messenger” and even in the whole unreal experience of David O. Russell’s “Three Kings.”

The use of computer-generated imaging is truly spectacular (and almost flawless) and this kind of movie couldn’t have been accomplished without it. The acting comes in fine form (Crowe stands out especially) and the story itself (though a historical mockery) is taut and keeps a largely rapt audience for the duration… My Ratings: [3/4½]
—Seth T. Hahne, age 26
…the violence is intense. It really gives you a good idea of what went on back then and how immoral the Roman empire was. People killing each other for entertainment isn’t exactly right. These things aside this is a great movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat. My Ratings: [2½/4]
—Tyler Lindquist, age 16
Very gory and from what I’ve seen on The Learning Channel probably pretty accurate for what occurred in the Colosseum and other arenas across the Roman Empire for hundreds of years. Not for the squeamish. The amount of bloodshed in this movie topped that of “Braveheart”. The whole concept of what this movie portrays of Roman lifestyle should offend most Christians (but that’s why they tended to throw Christians to the lions in the first place. Just be glad that Christianity finally won out over the wanton bloodshed of slaves and believers. By the way, my wife was made physically ill by this film (it’s too bad the rest of the theater wasn’t as well—a sign of the times perhaps. My Ratings: [2/4]
—John, age 30
Very good epic. It shows a lot of violence, but this is a very accurate portrayal of ancient Roman Barbarism. The gore is not gratuitous, but rather tells the story. No sex or swearing. It was a very barbarous time full of corruption and immorality, which I thought was tastefully portrayed. Go see it.
—Dan, age 40
I loved “Gladiator,” especially after spending a semester studying Greco-Roman Civilization for my history major. The film was a treat with a lot of accuracy in the background (the story is totally fictional).

I just have to put in a historical footnote. The guest reviewer for Gladiator was disappointed that there was not a mention of Christianity within the film. There is a reason for this: Christianity did not become legal until Emperor Constantine. The movie is set before this, and although Christianity was spreading (mostly among Greece, southern Italy, parts of the Middle East), it was not popular with the soldiers (under penalty), especially because Christianity had not yet made it to Spain for Maximus. The reason it was not in the movie is because it was not an issue among the characters of the story (which I guess is bad from a Christian perspective). My Ratings: [3/5]
—Jeremy Severdija, age 20, non-Christian
I actually liked “Gladiator,” in spite of the graphic violence [which isn’t any worse than it was in “Saving Private Ryan”]. After all, you know going in that this is a movie about slaughter in the Roman Colosseum. I think Ridley Scott did a commendable job of directing overall and Russell Crowe’s performance was riveting. One is drawn in by Crowe’s portrayal of Maximus who is a man of good character.

This movie is a little like “Ben-Hur” meets “Braveheart,” without any of the Christian elements, which is the consistent pattern we see in most movies today—Heaven forbid if we so much as introduce Jesus or Christianity into the picture.

This is definitely not a movie for children. I was appalled to see a mother bring her young son [maybe 5 years old] into the theater. Hollywood’s rating system, however flawed it may be, is still there as a guideline [which I consistently see being ignored by parents who bring young children to PG 13 and R rated movies]. My Ratings: [3/4]
—Donna K, age 49
Magnificent film! Captivating from the opening moments. Superb acting, involving plot, great directing, excellent soundtrack, epic stature. Believe it or not, “Gladiator” even has romance. I expected less and got more. There is a lot of blood and gore in “Gladiator”, though not gratuitous really: how can gladiator games be clean? And the gladiator games are scary to behold. This is not WWF goes to Rome.

“Gladiator” isn’t a Christian film per say. But it does clearly separate good from evil which is refreshing in a desensitized movie industry. The main character is a hero; the enemy a true tyrant. “Gladiator” builds into an action suspense epic in the midst of stunning battles, landscapes and venues. This is best picture material. Even if one needs to close the ole eyes during the copious violence in the battle and gladiator scenes, the rest of the movie would still be worth it. A must see on the big screen! My Ratings: [2/5]
—Todd Adams, age 32
I think many Christian columnists are forgetting the stigma attached to Christianity during the Roman Empire. In the days of Nero, Christians were killed and tortured in ways this movie could not present lest they risk an “NC-17” rating on a $100+ million picture. Christians were covered in animals blood and thrown to lions and some were even crucified, set afire, and used to light the streets in the evening. I suppose that the filmmakers could’ve presented Christians that were forced to fight against their will in the games, but that would’ve been all the story would’ve merited.

I think it is a big mistake to assume that everything in historical films needs to revolve around where Christianity was at the time. That was more than likely the reason Ridley Scott chose to downplay the religious beliefs of the characters. Maximus does confirm that he believes in a God, not one in particular. And with many of the Empire’s most powerful hailing Caesar as the only God, spiritual ambiguity was probably the best decision… Ridley Scott finally has his long-overdue masterpiece. My Ratings: [2½/5]
—Kelly Hefelfinger, age 21