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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Semper fi in antiquity, 3 janvier 2006
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Gladiator - Édition Collector 2 DVD (DVD)
Having been brought up in the classics, naturally anything that has to do with ancient Greece or Rome will catch my attention. Whether it holds it for very long or not is another matter; fortunately, Gladiator, for all of its shortcomings, did.
This is a work of fiction, and must be approached as such. I have seen numerous reviews that criticise the film for its lack of authenticity and historicity -- this is perhaps an unfair criticism. It is as unfair as if to say Star Wars is unhistorical, or the events portrayed on Spin City didn't really happen historically -- of course they didn't. This is what fiction is all about. Of course, there will be some grounding in reality (do we really want to divorce fiction completely from reality so that every city becomes Metropolis and every proper name must be changed?). Once I realised that this movie was intended to be a work of fiction, and not a dramatically-charged documentary, I relaxed and had an enjoyable time.
There was an emperor Marcus Aurelius, who was rather effective in a Machiavellian way early in his reign, and later turned to a more philosophical bent; his collected thoughts have been published in many forms, including as part of the great Harvard set of great thinkers. His son Commodus did in fact succeed him, though not after suffocating him on the German frontier, and was an emperor of a fair inferior stamp; he played to the mob, not necessarily more than previous emperors had (and, in fact, Marcus Aurelius had not suspended the games in Rome--no wise ruler would risk such a thing), but rather more than the elite classes of Rome would prefer.
Commodus in fact had (as did many emperors before and after) love affairs with relatives, friends, and strangers. He was ruthless (this much the movie kept true), but not quite as clever at intrigue as even the movie (in which he finally gets his come-uppance) suggests.
The character of Maximus is a complete fiction. An honourable man for whom Semper Fi would be the appropriate appellation; he is charged by his beloved emperor Marcus Aurelius essentially to save the empire and restore the Republic (how odd that he receives assistance from a character played by Derek Jacobi, who played the Republican-minded Claudius in I, Claudius); alas, the end of the film leads one to believe that with the death of Commodus, the Republic will be restored.
The Republic was never restored. The Empire fell, and anarchy took its place. The Dark Ages in the West ensued, and the Eastern Empire became the Byzantine Empire, leading a decadent and slowly-crumbling existence for another thousand years.
But, heroic tales owe nothing to political realities (as most who discern the truth behind modern political campaigning will inform you!) -- this is a tale of honour and the triumph against great odds of virtue.
Russell Crowe does an admirable job as Maximus, the Spaniard general turned slave by betrayal, who finally wins his dignity back in the arena in Rome. Joaquin Phoenix does an interesting job as Commodus, both weak and manipulative while being determined and ruthless. Derek Jacobi turns in his usual good acting job, though perhaps he is the wasted element in this film.
The cinematography is choppy, particularly in the battle sequences; this is, I am sure, meant to convey the disarray and distraction of battle. I am not sure it succeeds. The dream sequences and 'floating' periods are rather strange, with camera trickery more akin to a music video than an epic film. There are some very well done pieces, though, including the use of colouration to show vibrancy or gloom on the well-done modeling of Rome and the Colloseum.
The battle sequences that open the film are well done and realistic with regard to tactics and conditions of the Roman fight against the Germanic tribes. Unlike movies like Spartacus, which highlight some of the marching tactics, or Cleopatra, which shows use of the turtle formation, but do so in relative isolation from surrounding conditions, in Gladiator we get both a sense of the discipline and tactics of the Roman army as well as the difficult conditions under which they were fighting. As one Marine commentator told me, the Romans were often outnumbered by the ferocious Germans, but the discipline and battle tactics of the Romans usually won out because there was unit cohesion and command structure that looked at the larger battle as a whole; whereas the Germans at this period were independent, individual warriors who each, while brave and fierce, saw himself as a leader, and thus did not work together. The Celts often had the same problem.
Of course, on the other hand, there were bits of reality that were omitted from the film -- gladiators did indeed become superstars in Rome, more popular than the rulers (of course, that situation happens in modern times, too, where athletes and film stars are often far more popular than political leaders). Gladiators went so far as to endorse products and do much that modern celebrities do, but this was considered 'over the top', and left out of the screenplay.
Some judicious editing might make this a great film; as it is, it is a very good film, one that sets a new standard in what was considered a dead (or at least comatose) film genre.
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