Crazy Leader: Commodus
As entertaining as Gladiator is, and as deserving of an Oscar as Russell Crowe was for his performance, Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus is ultimately the crazy glue that holds it all together. The script can’t decide just what it is that makes the character so twisted. Daddy never loved him? Raging envy of Crowe’s Maximus? Incestuous cravings for his sister, Lucilla? Or is he just a bad seed? It hardly matters in the end. What draws us to Commodus, even as his behavior grows increasingly repellent, is the lonely little boy that we occasionally glimpse inside the power-crazed emperor. Phoenix’s great achievement, meanwhile, is to convince us that the little boy might still be saved — even as we see the grown Commodus smothering him further with every brutal, irrecoverable act, just as he strangled his own father.