Gladiator is filled with brilliant filmmaking and features outstanding performances, but it's neither profound enough nor pop enough to be great -- it's mournful, serious, beautiful and, finally, pointless.
Ridley Scott thrusts us so close to the combat that all we see is a lot of whirling and thrashing, a sword thrust here and there, a spurt of blood, a limb severed. There's hardly a scene that is cleanly and coherently staged in open space.
The fusion of the ancient and the modern -- even to the point of some sly echoes of our own sports-mad society -- is seamless. Gladiator does indeed deliver the glory that was Rome, but it also clinically dissects the assumptions on which it was built.
Though the digital effects lack the weight and conviction of their equivalents in old Cecil B. De Mille movies, Ridley Scott's sword-and-sandal epic has some of the intensity of old Hollywood in terms of storytelling, spectacle, and violence.
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.