Gladiator: an army general turned slave must rise from the pits of the Colosseum and take down a false leader who murdered his family, friends, and previous employer. The cast is a jaw-dropping mix of ‘classic’ thespians, up-and-comers, bodybuilders, and comedians but everyone feels completely at home in their roles. The plot is simple, but packed with so much Shakespearean betrayal and deception that feels hypnotic in parts. Action scenes are huge, flashy, and bloody – but remain visceral & entertaining, and stand up against anything coming out today. It’s hard to find flaws in this: In fact, my only minor niggle is that some of the setup feels rushed and clunky; like how you can pick anyone off the ground and make ‘em a slave. You know a film is special when even after a handful of viewings and years of TV re-runs it still grips you, and the 155 minute runtime flies by. Everything about Gladiator feels truly ‘epic’ in the classic Hollywood sense – the sets, the action, the plot, the acting, the score – and it all comes together perfectly to create what’s arguably the perfect swords and sandals film.
The Eagle: twenty years after his father led 5,000 Roman soldiers to their death a rookie tries to restore his family’s name by finding the lost Roman ‘eagle standard’. In a nutshell the biggest problem this film has is lackadaisical direction – every other issue seems to stem from this: naff/ridiculous plot, complacent acting, lazy storytelling… There’s genuinely a scene where a minor character says “To find them you have to go over the snowy hills and into the next glen” – there’s a 5 second shot of our soldiers struggling through snow, and wham – they’re back in normal terrain again!!! Complimenting the visual vomit is the corniest stock Gaelic music, that drones away in the background when the soldiers are in the highlands. To make the film more sellable there are a few gratuitous action scenes but you can’t really see what’s going on, and it winds up a blurry, shaky mess. The only redeeming part is when Mark Strong appears and shows everyone how to act properly! All in, it just all feels a bit amateur, and like more of a project about someone finding their roots / heritage, than wanting to let a decent story take centre stage. If you wish to see a film about southerners taking on crazed tribes of ugly Scottish people check out Doomsday instead! Or if you want to keep it historical – Spartacus.