A truly excellent movie always manages to boil its story down to the essentials. It’s the mediocre ones that fumble around trying to figure out what they’re about. I won’t say what the bad ones do, but it often involves some hand lotion and a back issue of National Geographic.
Beyond cleaning up at the Oscars, the true lasting impact of Gladiator is that it marks the beginning of the longstanding cinematic “bromance” between director Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe. It is also the high water mark for that creative team. They’ve done good work since but not on this level.
Just 29 when he made this, Kenneth Branagh fired a shot across the bow of no less a figure than Laurence Olivier, who had, forty-five years earlier, also directed and starred in his own adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play. Olivier’s version, made in wartime, was intended as a patriotic rallying cry for a weary nation. Branagh’s grittier, more ambiguous version is no less accomplished, although it could stand to be slightly better paced.
When sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions.
One might call this the Spinal Tap adaptation of Shakespeare’sgreatest play, because everything about it most definitely goes to eleven. The first film of the unabridged text of Hamlet and the last film shot in seventy millimeter as of today, Kenneth Branagh’s brazenly, foolishly ambitious project will be the shortest four hours you ever spent in front of one movie. A broad cast of both veteran Shakespearean actors and many who you would not expect in this kind of film wring both drama and raw emotion out of words often calcified under the dreary mantle of “literature.”