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Rated [R], 150 minutes
Starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed and Richard Harris
Screenplay by David Franzoni and John Logan and William Nicholson; Story by David Franzoni
Directed by Ridley Scott

IN SHORT: Fast moving, very cool battles. Slower moving story.

And you can read all about the stars in CrankyCritic® StarTalk with Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix. Both stories filed by our LA correspondent, Paul Fischer.

Being an epic-type film, "slow" is about the only negative I can toss at Ridley Scott's Gladiator and those of you that are into "epic" length flicks should not have any kind of problem with the flick. Everyone else, stick to the small soda and popcorn, 'cuz you won't want to be ducking out on the story, whose recreation of ancient Rome is a wondrous thing to behold. Scott wanted to recreate a long lost world and, with seamless integration of CG effects, has. So a tip of the hat to him, and to whichever of the writers came up with the line "At my signal, unleash hell." That's how we begin this film, with a battle between the Roman Legions led by General Maximus (Russell Crowe) and the barbarian hordes of Germania. Far behind the battlelines, watching hell unleashed, is the dying Roman Emperior Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) who has decided that Maximus should succeed him as Emperor.

This doesn't sit well with the first born son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) who, through a good deal of dramatic manipulation, takes the throne and sentences Maximus and his family to death. Gladiator is still firing on all cylinders at this point, as Maximus survives to find himself sold into slavery for the gladiator pits in the outer reaches of the Empire. Nicknamed "the Spaniard" and believed to be a deserter from the Roman Legion, he is befriended by an African named Juba (Djimon Honsou) and battles for his life under the ownership of freed former Gladiator Proximo (Oliver Reed). Newly crowned Emperor Commodus orders the Gladiators back to the Colosseum and you can guess what's coming from there.

That's where politics rears its ugly head and slows the story down . . . or adds a whole ton of real story to what would otherwise be a simple man seeking vengeance scenario. The political end involves Commodus' sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen), who would've been Emperor save for an accident of birth and Marcus Aurelius' final wish, to restore the Roman Republic and the democracy founded there. The head of the Roman Senate, and a co-plotter in these actions is Gracchus (Derek Jacobi), who brought the story of Claudius to Masterpiece Theater years ago. We wonder what Jacobi made of the fact that the story of Claudius plays a key role in the twists in the story of Gladiator. Debate and discuss.

On the grand scale of the big screen, this is the kind of movie that should be seen on the biggest one available. The opening battle and the CG reconstructions of the Colosseum alone are worth the price of the ticket. The battles could force some of us into testosterone overload. Once the pace slows down, though, so does the rush and the excitement.

Gladiator is gonna make Russell Crowe a major star, his nomination for The Insider notwithstanding. His characterization of Maximus, the maturity of the relationship with Lucilla and sheer hatred of Commodus are the stuff that people talk of.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Gladiator, he would have paid...


Seven less a deduction for the length. Speaking strictly from a guy's standpoint, the rush from the opening battle alone will carry you through the first hour and a half

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.