Are you not entertained? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?
Yeah, no matter how many times I say it, it never gets old. For me, I mean. I pity my children. Or I would, except The Flower just responds with:
CAN YOU COUNT, SUCKERS?
The latter being a quote from The Warriors, which she also had not seen, but which she had confused with Ridley Scott’s Sword-and-Sandals classic Gladiator. And, given that The Warriors is based on the Ancient Greek Anabasis, it’s not as far-fetched as it might initially sound. It probably will sound even less far-fetched to see so many echoes of the recent political season portrayed in this 2000 film—and practically banal when you consider so much of this year’s drama was like so much of 2000’s election drama.
But the beauty of this film isn’t its political message, assuming it can be said to have one of any tremendous specificity. The beauty of this film is its beauty—and that it thankfully transcends the cheesy adventure genre from which it sprang. Scott, in the early days of digital post-processing gives us the muted gray palette that dominates the superhero genre. But because he’s not a hack seeking “credibility”, he doesn’t use it for every damn second of the film. He’s not afraid of colors, or he hadn’t learned to be back then. (I don’t recall being wowed by Prometheus‘ visuals, frankly.)
He’s not above the tired lectures of “bread and circuses” and “rule the mob” and “we love violence”—but he’s also not above having lots of really entertaining violence in his film, either. Violence interspersed with melodrama and political intrigue. And lots and lots of crap floating in the air, in the Scott-ian style.
It holds up really well, this movie does. Every cheesy line delivered with utmost earnestness by Russell Crowe, Connie Nielsen (The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came To Eden, and playing Wonder Woman’s mother in the upcoming film), Oliver Reed in (I think) his final performance, Derek Jacobi and so on. Some people didn’t like Joaqiun Phoenix’s over-the-top performance as the weaselly Commodus, but it holds up better than I remember it, as is often the case with the Big Performances.
The action shows a really good command of space, something we note in a lot of ’80s films. In fact, this may be one of the latest examples of a director really commanding space in his action sequences. You could say, “Well, it’s the arena, Blake,” but Lucas would go on to use an Arena in “Attack of the Clones” and it was just decoration. The arena amounted to nothing, in terms of limiting or controlling the actions of the characters. What’s more, Scott’s command of the space extends from the opening battle scene to the climactic confrontation between Commodous’ troops and the gladiators.
There’s also considerable suspense here. We are carried along by the emotional arc of Crowe’s character (Maximus!), seeing his personal plans for vengeance rise to the level of potential restoration of the Republic of Rome, and his expansion from a single-minded revenant to possible Hero of the Republic means we start really caring whether or not his plans come to pass. The love story between Crowe and Nielsen is even a bright spot among bright spots of the film, containing as it does the most recognizable characteristics of Judeo-Christian ethics (monogamy, fidelity, respect between the sexes, etc.).
It’s a really fine film that manages to not collapse under its own weight. And at nearly 3 hours long, that’s not an inconsiderable feat.
The children were entertained, if perhaps not overwhelmed by the experience.