Star fighter . . . extraordinary battle scenes . . . beautiful emperor's daughter. No, it's not Star Wars.
Russell Crowe stars as a victorious Roman general who wants nothing more than to go home to his family farm. Unfortunately, he gets caught up in the battle to rule the empire and soon finds himself stripped of all he holds dear. Later, he engages in deadly battles of honor and survival in the arenas of Rome. Sound contrived and a bit convoluted? Well, it is. The script is the Achilles' heel in this powerful film. At times, the narrative is hard to follow and the characters' motivations are muddy. More important, the climax borders on hokey. (Was that Enya in the background?) That said, the film still works. There is no shortage of thrills and the characterizations are far richer than most films of this scale.
For years, Russell Crowe has been marked as the next big thing. As Maximus, he finally lives up to the hype by literally stepping into the arena and coming up victorious. But, for a great hero to rise, he needs a great villain. Unfortunately, Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus, the scorned son and scheming emperor, falls short. At times, his dramatic lines seem almost comical. Phoenix's off-the-mark performance definitely hurts Crowe's overall star power. Spencer Treat Clark, as the emperor's young nephew, deserves high praise. Talented kids in Hollywood films can be harder to find than a good deal at a cinema snack bar, so it's a nice to know that Haley Joel Osment no longer stands alone.
Ridley Scott couldn't have had an easy time with a huge cast, dazzling special effects and the ferocious tigers (who probably seemed like kittens next to the strong willed leading man). But from the first scene, Scott lets us know that he has succeeded in creating a film that defies the challenges and raises the standard for Hollywood blockbusters.
Gladiator delivers! Tremendous cast. Gigantic special effects. Epic story.
Same ticket price.