Oh, Gladiator. I remember being so excited when I saw the first teaser trailer; Colosseum! Gladiators! Tigers! All to the pulse pounding score from Conan the Barbarian, by Basil Poledouris. The adventure that was in store for us all! And apparently, for quite a few of you, it delivered. For me, it was a cure for insomnia.
Let’s start with a Conan comparison right off the bat, shall we? So, in Conan the Barbarian, the villain is James Earl Jones as the supremely menacing and badass Thulsa Doom. In Gladiator, our hero has to defeat rapper Joaquin Phoenix as a whiny, crying pussy. Despite having the entire empire of Rome behind him, never once does it seem that Phoenix’s character has the advantage in this fight. Crowe doesn’t have to even try hard; He begins the movie as a badass, and ends the movie as a badass. You could say that this has shades of more classic adventure tales, where the hero is brawny and the villain is scrawny. But usually in those stories, the villain is at least intelligent! Crowe is much smarter than the emperor, and wins the heart of the mob in about two seconds flat. And Phoenix is just pure camp in this, which either works for you or doesn’t. It’s sad, because I usually enjoy weaselly villains.
Ridley Scott is terrible at directing action scenes. Even in his best films, like Blade Runner, I care because of my emotional connection to the characters, and the general ambience that is created, and not because of the choreography of violence. Having a bunch of choppy, close-up shaky cam shots does not a battle scene make. There’s some bloody mess, true, but it happens so quickly and disjointedly that it barely has time to register. I’m sure that it’s done this way to try and capture the intensity of battle, but it really just makes me confused as to who is standing where, and who just got stabbed in the neck.
To the film’s credit, if you’re going to mostly use dialogue lifted from a Thor comic, it’s good to have a couple great old Brit actors like Oliver Reed and Richard Harris. Connie Nielsen is some nice eye candy, as are the sets and costumes. Always glad to see a Sven Thorsen cameo as well.
To be fair, the gladiator genre has never really excited me. Spartacus bores the shit out of me, and I’m not very interested in conflicts that revolve around two people being thrown into a ring with swords. If you haven’t seen it, it seems to be pretty damn popular, so don’t let me dissuade you. But for me. . . bleh.
5 out of 10
Ridley next turns his attention to adapting the long awaited sequel to Silence Of The Lambs, a movie that both Jodie Foster and original director Jonathan Demme turned their backs on. Did they make the right choice?
Yes. I think the movie would have been much more effective had the original crew returned, but it really is just a novel that never should have been adapted. I like the novel, which is a lot more comical and playful than the film, but it doesn’t lend itself to a satisfying hollywood production. I mean, you have a FBI agent trying to save a serial killer from a child molester. Um. . . ok.
Hopkins is good and creepy in this, changing his performance appropriately from the demonic portrayal in Silence. Julianne Moore also does well with a thankless role, but her performance, while good, doesn’t match up with Foster’s, and it really kills the sense of shared history that the two main characters are supposed to have together.
This is a borderline 7, because it does have some great moments (The italian scenes are the best, just like in the novel), but ultimately Ridley was a bad choice for the material, and it’s a movie with no beginning or end.
6 out of 10
SPY GAME (2001)
The poster for this film should be in the dictionary next to “mediocre”. It’s a spy “thriller” with no tension at all, a poorly miscast and performed lead in Robert Redford, a love story that rings hollow, and generally just no real point or message.
Really, that’s all I’ve got to say about it. If you like crazy Tony’s action movies, there isn’t much action to be had here. It’s really just a movie about how charming Robert Redford is, except he’s really not. I first watched this a a free sneak screening, and this time rented the Blu-Ray from the library, so I can at least say that I didn’t waste one penny on this.
5 out of 10