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Gladiator is a spectacle in the Ben-Hur vein remade in the noveau historical style of Braveheart with a dash of Dances With Wolves.  Russell Crowe plays Maximus, the commander of the Roman Legions fighting the Germanic tribes in 180 AD. His Emperor, Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), tells Maximus that he is to succeed him. Unfortunately for Maximus, the next person with whom the Emperor shares his plan is his son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) who promptly murders him, becomes Emperor and sentences Maximus to death.  Maximus escapes (otherwise this would have been a very short film) but arrives home too late to save his family from death and is sold into slavery.  He now becomes the title character as he is bought by an impresario of Gladiators played by Oliver Reed.  Here the plot becomes very similar to Ben-Hur as Maximus plots to kill Commodus in front of 50,000 screaming fans in the Coliseum in Rome.  Like any good Emperor, Commodus is in love with his sister (Connie Neilson) who, needless to say, is in love with Maximus.  Some of the plot is historical. Marcus Aurelius was a philospher-king Emperor until his death in Germany in 180 AD whereupon he was succeeded by Commodus who by all accounts was a nasty bit of work.  The real Aurelius did not ban Gladiators as suggested in this movie but he did force them to fight with blunt swords.  The rest including Crowe's character are fictions overlaid on this background.  Ancient Rome is re-created very spectacularly by computer for this movie.  The violence, which is continual, is very graphic a la Braveheart.  Crowe is stolid but good as Maximus. He lacks the passion we see in Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur or Mel Gibson in Braveheart. In fact, the whole movie is a bit lacking in this area mainly because the characters are never more (and sometimes less) than two dimensional.  Commodus, as played by Phoenix, is just nasty and evil.  He and Maximus have only a few seconds together on the screen at the beginning of the movie so they don't have time to build up any chemistry. There is a good bit of chemistry between Commodus' sister and Maximus, and their scenes together are more interesting although we only get one little kiss out of the whole movie!  The emphasis is definitely on the violence and, in particular, on the action in the Coliseum.  This is all very well done as directed by Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise) and we get an eyeful of Bread and Circuses.  The supporting cast is good, particularly Reed who died during the filming and Derek Jacobi who plays one of the Senators.  It's nice to see Jacobi back in a toga but it also reminds us just how good a story about ancient Rome can be.  Gladiator is no I Claudius.  The characters in Gladiator pale in comparison to Sian Phillips as Livia or John Hurt as Caligula.  Right about now, you are thinking to yourselves, ``Ben-Hur, makes sense, Braveheart, I can see that but Dances With Wolves?"  Yes, it's true!  There are several scenes in Gladiator in which Maximus is seen standing in a field holding his hands over the wind wafted grain to show us that he is a back-to-the-land kind of guy who just wants to be home on his farm in Spain.  I've only seen something like that once before. It was Kevin Costner and Graham Greene holding their hands over the prairie grass in Dances With Wolves showing their bond with the land.  It made a big impression on me at the time and apparently also on Ridley Scott.