I’ve seen Gladiator half a dozen times now — thrice on a big screen and thrice on DVD — and it gets me deeper in the gut every time: By the time Maximus whispers his final words, assuring Lucilla that “Lucius is safe,” I’m starting to sniffle. By the time Juba is reverently burying Maximus’s totems of his wife and son, I’m bawling.
I don’t think it’s venturing too far into hyperbole to call this, the followup to The Sixth Sense from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, a work of transcendent filmic genius, one that acknowledges the audience’s expectations, confounds them, rebuilds them, and ends up using them to brilliant, astonishing advantage.
Is Gladiator an action movie? Is it an historical drama? Is it a sweeping epic? Yes. Like The 13th Warrior, this is a thinking person’s action movie. Like Braveheart, this is a story of a brutal era told with stunning realism. Like Terminator 2, this is a violent movie that indicts our appetite for violence. Like The Matrix, this thrills on both a visceral and cerebral level.