GLADIATOR is riveting cinema, the kind of movie that grabs you by the throat. The stakes are high, the ancient Roman Empire stunningly recreated, and the body of Maximus is . . . well, buff Russell Crowe. Because of the fast-paced sequences, you won't find yourself bored, or even with enough time to ponder the sometimes confusing details. (For example, if Maximus had never seen Rome, how did he know Lucilla and Commodus as children, as Marcus Aurelius states early in the film?) But this is not an intellectual movie, so why bother to figure things out? This is pure entertainment, as much gory spectacle as the Roman gladiator contests in the Colliseum. Add a wronged Roman General (Crowe), an effeminate, incest-craving, and slimy new Caesar (Joaquin Phoenix, who portrays Commodus so well his screen presence gave me the creeps), his beautiful and scheming sister Lucilla (Connie Nielson), and a bunch of slaves who band together behind the mysterious Spaniard to save their lives on the largest life-and-death stage, the gladiator arena, and you have Ridley Scott's Gladiator. You will be rooting for Maximus to exact his revenge no matter how peace-loving you thought you were.
I found it ironic - and a little self-referential - when a Roman senator declares that people will love you if you bring them death. This film thrives on slaughter, from start to finish, as it portrays the brutal side of the Roman Empire. Although the butchering is not as graphic as in some films, avoid this film if you can't stand violence. Children, too, should be steered clear of this one. Take the rating seriously.