VALE ATQUE AVE
The direness of "Rome", which seems to be quite consciously cowering in the shadow of "I, Claudius", with a rotten script ("I'm your man for that, to boot") and incoherent story-telling, nevertheless whetted my appetite for Roman hokum, so I ended up watching "Gladiator" for the umpteenth time. It seems to be one of the few films I can watch over and again, and as it's been a few years since the last viewing, a few things came out differently - most clearly, how melodramatic it is. A little more exposition on the history and background, a little more fleshing-out, wouldn't have been missed either, and I think that's what stops it being a truly great rather than simply a very good movie. Someone said to me, after seeing it for the first time, "You never see anything they don't want you to see", which I still think is pretty perceptive. It's very directed, and never takes its foot off the gas. I still haven't seen the extended version, so it'll be interesting to see if that makes any improvements, and includes any material not on the original bonus DVD.
That doesn't stop it being hugely enjoyable, of course. Performance-wise it scores over "Rome" simply because the actors seem to be working with the script rather than labouring under it, and despite some standout speeches and exchanges, the dialogue in "Gladiator" isn't always great, either. Done badly, it could be very bad indeed; but they always look as if they believe in it, rather than merely wanting to, as they do in "Rome". With the exception of Kenneth Cranham (Pompey), there's an awful lot of mugging going on in place of getting to grips with the words, and it's not for want of talent and experience, either.
Standout this time round in "Gladiator" was Joaquin Phoenix. His substitution of "w" for "r" ("The gweatness of Wome?") should be laughable: it isn't. It's chilling, as if he were a little boy in the body of a man. There's something unevolved about him. The character's a true monster, and yet totally human; Phoenix, who I've always thought was very good, struck me this time as absolutely superb. I only saw a piece of acting once, where he almost seems to tip a wink to the audience - "He vexes me. [Pause] I'm tewwibly vexed." Which, to be fair, is just crying out for it.