May 5, 2020

DAVID ALWAYS BEATS GOLIATH:

Did Gladiator really deserve the best picture Oscar? (Scott Tobias, 5 May 2020, The Guardian)

Twenty years later, perhaps it's time to take Gladiator back to its original framing, not as the spoiler to Steven Soderbergh's unlikely coronation as a Hollywood director - his Erin Brockovich and Traffic were best picture nominees, and he won best director for the latter - but as a classed-up underdog sports movie, like a middle-period Rocky sequel in sandals and tunics. The palace intrigue that follows the death of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius may give the film a certain amount of sophistication, as do the performances by Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix and Connie Nielsen, who all make excellent and multi-layered contributions. Yet this is essentially about an undersized warrior gutting his way to a title bout - all else seems like window-dressing by comparison.

The competitive arc of Gladiator is Rocky III leading into Rocky IV. It's about our hero first belting his way through a colorful array of opponents - barrel-chested goons, armor-plated archers on chariots, man-eating tigers emerging from the arena floor - before finally battling the villain on hostile turf and turning the home crowd to his favor, against the will of a brutal authoritarian government. Again, this is not a mark against the film, because it's mostly rousing on these terms, boosted by a Roman succession plot that plays one man's epic revenge quest to the highest of stakes. But the argument that the film is any deeper than the red-meat savagery it delivers doesn't hold up under scrutiny. It's a terrific summer movie, and one of the new century's least deserving best picture winners.

A classic illustration of our rule: not only is the notion of the best soldier in the most advanced army on Earth being the underdog silly in itself, but, the victory of republicanism over dictatorship is inevitable (if speeded up in the film).

Posted by at May 5, 2020 12:00 AM

  

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