Saturday, April 07, 2012

G is for Gladiator (#374)

Gladiator (2000) won the Best Picture at the Oscars, but seems to have struggled to retain that level of respect ever since, and I'm not really sure why.  Maybe it's because the swords-and-sandals revival (or historical epic) that it inspired did not lead to results critics were proud to have more or less chamioned, or maybe critics are just fickle.  I know that star Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott also had a somewhat rough time of it in the years that followed.  Crowe starred in another est Picture winner the following year (A Beautiful Mind), and then couldn't seem to do anything right, even though he continued to do brilliant work.  Scott hasn't really caught a break with anyone until this year's hotly-anticipated Prometheus, even though he's done exceptional work in the meantime on such films as Kingdom of Heaven, American GangsterBody of Lies, and Robin Hood (working with Crowe on nearly all subsequent projects, actually).  Gladiator is a work of subtle beauty, and is filled with strong performances, including the perennially underrated Joaquin Phoenix (best known recently for the identity crisis I'm Not Here, which should be no wonder), a study of motivations of the limits of the human spirit, both in triumph and ego.  I suspect some people soured on it because it challenged their appreciation of Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus, almost as if admitting love for Gladiator meant that they couldn't love Kirk Douglas as a more individually iconic figure.  But Gladiator, no matter the accomplishments of Kubrick elsewhere, represents better work from Scott.  Great work does not need immediately identifiable material; great work creates its own attention.  Gladiator did it once.  It can do it again.

Star Trek bonus!

G is for Garak
(from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
Was he a spy, a former spy, a manipulator, an opportunist?  Or was he "plain, simple" Garak, a tailor operating a shop on the sprawling Promenade on Deep Space Nine?  Probably a mix of everything.  That was the strength of this character, a Cardassian who gave a good name to Cardassians, a multidimensional individual who may have done things he was not proud of in the past, who lived the life of an exile, but knew well enough when he met a new friend (Julian Bashir) who would encourage his better instincts.  There were plenty of bumps in the road ahead of him, but Garak proved to be one of the more fascinating characters of Deep Space Nine because you wanted to be sitting there right beside him at Quark's, enjoying a fine drink, good book, and some of the best conversation you'll ever experience.  As embodied by Andrew Robinson, Garak is a quintessential Star Trek character, an outsized personality not often represented on film, who can bring life to a scene simply for being there and enjoying being there.   Usually actors of this variety are confined to the stage.  When there's a Star Trek on, you can be sure to find them on the screen, too.

A-to-Z Challenge!

6 comments:

Rusty Webb said...

Garek was one of my favorite DS9 characters. Actually most of the characters were one of my favorites.

Loved Gladiator and I think it has aged pretty well. I was of the opinion that Kindom of Heaven was a bit of a mess, but I also think Promethus will be amazing.

There's a lot I'm looking forward to at the theater this summer.

Patricia said...

I just dropped in from the A-Z challenge list. Great post and well done. Look fwd to more of your posts.
Patricia, Sugar & Spice & All Things ? Nice

Tony Laplume, Scouring Monk said...

What I love about Kingdom of Heaven is that it's as messy as the period it attempts to capture. Unlike Gladiator, its central character (Orlando Bloom, for those who don't know) spends most of the film overwhelmed by his circumstances, which is entirely appropriate, so we spend our time with him trying to figure things out just as he does. He's got a greater sense of honor than just about anyone else in the story (except for the character played by Alexander Siddig, who pointedly represents the opposite ideology), but that doesn't mean he's perfect. In fact, at the end of the story he retreats back to his small world rather than attempting to fix the bigger one. There's an infinite amount of simplicity in the storytelling, even though the context is messy, messy, messy. Ridley Scott had to know that this one probably wouldn't be a commercial success, but he made it anyway, because he knew how significant it was as a reflection of modern times.

MOCK! said...

I only saw Gladiator once, but keep thinking about grabbing the DVD. I remember thinking, at the time, it would have been a decent Anakin Skywalker type movie....at least better than Phantom Menace was...

jabblog said...

Gladiator was a good film and Russell Crowe very convincing. I think his public persona got in the way of his acting - or at least people's appreciation of it.

Tony Laplume, Scouring Monk said...

It's a crying shame what happened to Crowe's popular career, but again, it's something that Hollywood hasn't necessarily allowed to get in his way.

And Gladiator is one of those movies you appreciate more after you've seen it a few times, so definitely add it to your collection.

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