Time Out saysThe late second century: the Roman army is fighting Germania, but that's a small problem for general Maximus (Crowe), compared to his relations with the Imperial dynasty. Ailing Marcus Aurelius (Harris) would like his favourite soldier and confidant to take over and pass power to the Senate. His heir, however - the insecure Commodus (Phoenix) - feels miffed by the slight. Having ensured dad dies in his arms, the new Emperor exerts his murderous authority. But Maximus won't swear loyalty, and after a narrow escape, the enslaved ex-general, bent on vengeance, gets a chance to return to Rome as a gladiator. Scott's sword and sandal spectacular is a bloody good yarn, packed with epic pomp and pageantry, dastardly plots, massed action and forthright, fundamental emotions. That said, for all the efforts to suggest authenticity, it stays true to peplum tradition, not only in its age old clichés, but in saying as much about our era as that in which it's set. The implausibly efficient carnage of the opening battle evokes post-'Nam war movies; Maximus' improbably swift, deep bonding with an African slave lends a whiff of PC historicity; Commodus's vices arise from poor parental care. Still, the cast is strong (notably Nielsen as Commodus's vacillating sister, and the late Oliver Reed, unusually endearing as a gladiator owner), the pacing lively, and the sets, swordplay and Scud catapults impressive.
Cast and crew
Derek Jacobi, Russell Crowe, Spencer Treat Clark, Djimon Hounsou, Connie Nielsen, David Schofield, John Shrapnel, Tomas Arana, David Hemmings, Joaquin Phoenix, Richard Harris, Ralf Moeller, Oliver Reed