Russell Crowe has been part of a number of classic movies at this point, able to bring his talent to all manners of productions. But most would agree, that when looking back at his fantastic career, one movie stood out well above the rest in terms of story and staying power. Now, that movie is about to hit Netflix in what will be a glorious return to Ancient Rome and one of the truly wonderful adaptations of that time period we have ever seen on the big screen. That’s right, Gladiator is hitting the streamer on Friday and we have a chance to once again root for Russell Crowe as Maximus.
Gladiator starts us in a violent world, with Russell Crowe as Maximus leading the Roman Army into battle at the edges of their empire. In one of the truly great speeches that shows the captivating appeal Maximus has over his troops (and Russell Crowe has over audiences), we see a man who is fit to lead many. The current Emperor Marcus Aurelius sure thinks so, saying Maximus is next in line for the top spot because his son Commodus, the slimy ineffectual, doesn’t have the chops to get the job done. This begins a spiraling of events that end up laying out a true hero’s story for Maximus.
With Commodus wise to the fact that he isn’t going to get the Emperor-nod, he shanks Aurelius and demands a little loyalty from the top general. Maximus declines the nefarious invite which, at the time proves to be a near-fatal error. Commodus, ever the embodiment of evil, arrests him, murders his family, burns his land and in the end, Maximus is sold off to a bunch of slave traders. From here on out, Russell Crowe is going to need to work his way up the ladder for a little revenge.
It’s here where the Gladiator piece comes into the mix. Russell Crowe as Maximus then begins to put his military skills and bravado to work, with a little payback energy to boot and he becomes on of the most renowned fighters the crowds have seen. At first in disguise, he wins over the people for his prowess, putting Commodus in a tricky spot about how to get rid of this guy a second time. We see some of the most epic arena-style fight scenes, images that have stood the test of movie time.
Gladiator is a wonderful movie, violent but realistic, fully bringing us into the world of Ancient Rome and putting together a good vs. evil story together at every level. Russell Crowe is amazing in the part, commanding the screen as a true hero. But Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus is just as important to the success of the film, becoming a villain for the ages. With pallid impotence, he is psychotically sycophantic at his core. It’s so realistic that you almost dislike him as a real person rather than just an actor on the big screen.
And make no mistake, Gladiator was made for the big screen. It’s a sweeping epic that captivated audiences when it first came out. With Ridley Scott in the director’s chair, the film became part of the early 2000s zeitgeist. It was a box office hit, earning $461 million dollars on its roughly $103 million budget. Russell Crowe and company were (mostly) hits with the critics as well scoring 77% on Rotten Tomatoes and 67 on Metacritic. But what it might have lacked in initial critical love, such as it were, it more than made up for come awards season. It was nominated for 12 Academy Awards in total and took home the hardware in five categories. Among the highlights, Russell Crowe won Best Actor and the film took home the Best Picture award as well. So, I’d say it ended up winning the day.
And with Russell Crowe coming to streaming with Gladiator, we were also treated to the news that Ridley Scott is developing a sequel for the flick more than two decades later. This one will focus on the story of Lucius, the son of Lucilla, Commodus’s sister. He was a boy in the first film so this will pick up along the same timeline. In all, it’s time to get over to Netflix and take another watch of this epic classic. It still holds up today with Russell Crowe giving one of the truly commanding performances ever.