Gladiator, director Ridley Scott's brute summer epic, drags viewers back to the digitally enhanced splendor that was Rome. A dying emperor wants to bequeath his domain to honorable Maximus (Russell Crowe), but scheming son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) gets his father killed, sends Maximus into slavery, and takes helm. Maximus is very, very upset, and as his performances in L.A. Confidential and The Insider have shown, Russell Crowe has an uncanny talent for acting on the edge of rage and control. His tense physicality is perfectly suited to the role of Maximus, who must battle his way back to Rome as an enslaved gladiator, in order to exact revenge upon Commodus.
The film proceeds with a lot of violent pomp and stylized circumstance. It is big, barbaric, and well-shot. Scott seems, at times, to try and critique the bloodlust surrounding the arena, but only succeeds in producing a movie that thrives on it.