Entertainment Poll of the Week Results

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Student Choice: Gladiator

“Gladiator” is well-made, big scale entertainment that contains a story of perseverance that has continuously been a well-chronicled recipe for both widespread box office and public success.

Russell Crowe plays Maximus, an esteemed warrior who is unfairly imprisoned because of the jealousy of Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Both of these stellar performances guide the conflict that compose the remainder of the story, effectively involving Maximus fighting as a gladiator all the way to the crown.

I have a strong affection for the film, but also believe that the merits of it have been overblown. Crowe won an Oscar for this role, but he has given better performances in superior movies, such as “The Insider,” “A Beautiful Mind,” and “Cinderella Man.” Scott did fabulous work with crafting this immense story, but I still contend that “Matchstick Men” is his best effort of the decade. Out of the possible choices for this week, it probably ranks in the middle.

That said, I want to make my opinion of the film perfectly clear: “Gladiator” works extremely well on its intended level, even if it does not necessarily achieve the greatness that people have granted it.

Critic’s Choice: Far From Heaven

“Far From Heaven” is not an extraordinary experience because it deals with sexism, homosexuality, racism, and the relationships that bound these taboo subjects together, but rather the unparalleled maturity with which it beautifully illustrates society’s constraints on well-intentioned individuals. All of the characters are masterfully crafted as people whose goodness is exceeded only by their na’vet in believing that people are as open-minded and kind as them. The relationships between all of the characters are a necessary release for these individuals whose lives are dictated solely by the rules that they are intent on following, until they garner the courage to break free from this false imprisonment.

Julianne Moore plays Cathy Whitaker, a woman whose seemingly perfect life is shattered by the revelation that her husband, Frank (Dennis Quaid), is gay. She searches for understanding from her friend, Eleanor Fine (Patricia Clarkson), but eventually finds a sweet, sustained comfort from Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert). After Cathy’s husband begins to realize that his homosexuality is not something that can be cured, he decides that he can no longer subject his wife and children to this emotional torture and leaves, prompting her to begin a shy courtship with the gardener that can never fully achieve a desired physical embrace that matches their love.

The authentic nature of the film derives from the searing performances. Moore is amazing and rightfully restrained as a woman who fights for her marriage, love, and dignity but is stymied by a world that sees women as second-class citizens. Quaid, in what might be the best male supporting performance of the decade, is thoroughly subtle, powerful, and tragic as a person who fights for a family that he cannot completely embrace, causing him to feel as if he is not deserving of their love. Haysbert gives easily the most accomplished performance of his career, penetrating his character with an insight and depth into the mind and fears of a 1950’s black male with real hopes and dreams that is simply astounding. Clarkson plays Cathy’s best friend superbly as a person who claims she is warns about possible trouble because of a real affection, but actually judges her in a condescending way that briefly elevates her low self-esteem.

Todd Haynes, the writer and director, makes “Far From Heavean” in a style that is a tribute to the 1950’s Douglas Sirk films, but the timeless messages it accentuates are forever applicable. The film has truthful dialogue that exhibits the reality of racism that existed among all ethnicities that was also pervasive, if quieter, in the north. Raymond makes a simple but perfectly accurate statement when describing the outrage at their blossoming relationship between himself and Cathy: “Apparently, we found something whites and blacks can agree on.”

“Far From Heaven” was the best film of 2002 because of the somewhat painful realism with which it tells its touching and harrowing story. The film is not about perfect people or heroes, but rather about victims who are driven by the best intentions in a search for contentment. Ultimately, “Far From Heaven” is about good-hearted people who make selfless, difficult decisions that cause impenetrable loneliness because they reside in a world that rewards narcissism and greed.