I am a benevolent critic and as such will choose to believe that the choice to remake a four hour long film that won a sometimes equaled but never bettered 11 Oscars but seems to have been forgotten by everyone I know apart from one Uncle was due to a particularly interesting batch of ‘Hollywood Marching Powder’ and by the time they realized what evil they had wrought, too many wheels were turning for the project to be stopped. Or they were trying to make me feel nostalgic for the sludge that passed for summer 2016.
Because this is almost a checklist for how not to do a blockbuster. But before I start, I do want to say that the soundtrack is pretty good and Morgan Freeman does his best sleepwalking towards a paycheck but aside from that…
Lets start small(ish). The pacing in this film is horrific. It takes over an hour for the inevitable betrayal to happen meaning that the rest of the film barely has time to blink, let alone breathe. The film feels like a collection of scenes with no connectivity at all meaning that we never have time to get to know or care about these characters or even their relationships to each other! The characters all look identical which doesn’t help.
Also, somehow, despite having a budget of 100 million, the CGI in this film is invasive and terrible.
And that’s assuming that you can tell whats happening on screen, I had to check that Paul Greengrass wasn’t involved in filming because his shooting style has been copied down to the last little shake and zoom in. Hell, the film is so obsessed with zooming in, that I barely had a chance to glimpse what looked like some fantastic looking sets as well as an admirable number of authentic extras who look thrilled to finally have some work but wishing someone would give them some directions.
Then you get to the ‘cast’, with the main hole in the air being called Jack Huston (in his first and probably last starring role) a being who every night wishes upon stars that they will grant him his heartfelt desire of having the charisma of a mildly depressed Belgian accountant. None of the others fare any better, and with the villain? antagonist? sympathetic but trapped by circumstance man? Seemingly changing personality and motivations from second to second nothing is ever made clear.Because to develop actual character would require actually slowing things down for a second and that seems a bit radical in a film that seemed as desperate to be over and done with as I was for a power cut/fire/plague of locusts to hit my cinema.
Oh, and as for the films most supporting character? It’s nice that the actor actually sought out (and got) the blessing of Pope Francis for the role but the character is so shoehorned in that you could remove him completely and the film might actually flow a little better.
I was bored, fidgety and convinced that my watch had stopped working all within the first ten minutes and things went downhill from there. The sword and sandals epic is probably going to end after this film and it’s a tragic end to a once all conquering genre. Skip this with a vengeance and check out the 1959 version or, if your desperate for a more modern telling of a betrayed nobleman fighting for hi family against the Roman Empire in the arena… then why aren’t you watching Gladiator?
My Score- Fire