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Russell Crowe cements his star status with a brooding, muscular performance helped along by lots of pithily quotable mock-Shakespearean dialogue. But Crowe's Maximus, along with everyone else in the film, is a disappointing two-dimensional stereotype: there's also the ridiculously melodramatic villain (Joaquin Phoenix), the old flame who's still in love with her hero (Connie Nielsen) and the trusty companion (Djimon Hounsou--who seems stuck in these roles). Richard Harris lacks the gravitas to convince as the philosopher-king Marcus Aurelius, and only Oliver Reed, in his very last film, brings some depth to his world-weary ex-gladiator. Still, if Scott's film lacks the profundity of Ben-Hur, Spartacus or even Cleopatra, it remains a kinetic, exciting thrill ride that gives us some sense of what it must have been like to fight and die with a gladius in hand.
On the DVD: Gladiator's two-disc set quickly became a must-have on its first release and remains one of the absolute essential DVD purchases. It set the standard both for picture and sound quality (Dolby 5.1 or DTS) as well as providing a second disc fully loaded with excellent special features. Scott's audio commentary is on the first disc, and the second has documentaries about both the history and the film, deleted scenes, storyboards, hidden "Easter Eggs" and more. --Mark Walker
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