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Updated: Jun 7

"Are you not entertained!?"

For some reason, I had forgot just how much Ridley Scott's 2000 Roman epic GLADIATOR soars. Crowe's towering bravado, Hans Zimmer's best music score, Rome in all it's centurion era glory. This is a spectacular film.

It's a classic story of kings & kingdoms, the lust for power and redemption and perseverance, wrapped in that Ridley Scott magic he's displayed so often in films like "Alien", "Black Rain" and "Prometheus".

Russell Crowe is Maximus, a fierce Roman General to King Marcus Aurelius, perfectly played by Richard Harris. Harris delivers an older, wiser king than his role as Arthur back in 1967's "Camelot".

That wisdom is displayed on his death bed, when he chooses Maximus as his successor on the throne, passing over his emotional, dangerous son Commodus, well played by a young Joaquin Phoenix (Joker, Signs). This was Phoenix's first lead role and he slays it, wound tight and ready to strike at anyone that betrays his thirst for power.

Commodus discovers that he's been passed over and before the word can get out, he unleashes the Roman Army on Maximus as a traitor. Maximus escapes and finds his wife and son brutally murdered and his home in flames. So begins a decade long journey that eventually leads to being enslaved and taken back to Rome as a gladiator.

At 2 hours and 35 minutes long, GLADIATOR is never slow, but it truly finds its pace and power in it's middle section, as Maximus arrives at The Colosseum, thousands cheer, tigers spring from cages in the field of battle and Hans Zimmer's music score crescendos. Ridley at his finest is a jaw dropping equation.

The entire cast is incredible.

Connie Nielsen (Wonder Woman) is excellent as Lucilla, Commodus sister who finds her loyalties tested by a mad sibling.

Oliver Reed (Tommy) is powerful and funny as Proximo, Maximus' owner in slavery, who sees something special in his best warrior. Reed passed away during filming, but Scott had captured enough of his scenes that he finished them with CGI and body doubles. It's seamless.

Derek Jacobi (Dead Again) is his usual brilliant self as Gracchus, a member of the council who sees the insanity in Commodus. Watching him plot and scheme as the political winds shift surely inspired some of the best performances in "Game of Thrones".

Djimon Hounsou (Guardians of the Galaxy, Blood Diamond) is the fierce enslaved warrior Juba, at Maximus' side through every bloody battle.

David Hemmings (Blow Up, Camelot) is a welcome sight as Cassius in one of his last film roles.

Crowe carries the heart and thirsty revenge of Maximus for the entire two and a half hours, creating a hero that inspires. Scott puts him in so many situations that seem impossible to survive, he does seem more Roman God than man by the end of the film. Crowe is flawless.

Phoenix is a worthy foe as an actor and character. He always seems like he has a dangerous depth of violence ready to combust. In the famous scene in which he screams, "Am I NOT merciful!!!!!?" in Nielsen's face, it was an ad-libbed moment. The scared look on Nielsen's face is genuine. I can't imagine anyone else in the role of Commodus.

The size and scale of the film is impressive and beautifully created by Scott and his team. In that opening battle, 20,000 arrows were created and shot, no CGI there kids. The violent hand to hand combat scenes were all too real, with Crowe and many of the actors suffering injuries but continuing on.

GLADIATOR triumphed at the Oscars too, Nominated for 12 Academy Awards and winning Best Picture, Best Actor for Russell Crowe, Best Sound, Best Costume Design and Best Visual Effects.

I'll be revisiting Maximus and GLADIATOR much more often than I have the past two decades, this modern classic battles its way to an A.

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