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Hell, Caesar

Gladiator doesnít lack heroism or spectacle, but its drama is tainted by cowardice.

It is also a great pleasure to see Derek Jacobi and Richard Harris on the screen again, surrounded by classical trappings. Jacobi instills his Senator Gracchus with a passion for justice, struggling to keep Rome from becoming the lavatory Commodus would have it be. Harris, similarly, gives Marcus Aurelius immense dignity, showing him to be brilliant in territorial conquest but lousy at fatherhood, creating the foundation for this entire conflict. Between these elders juts the loose catapult son, credibly delivered by Phoenix. The only shame is that the young actor isn't given more opportunity to provoke our compassion for the power-mad, undisciplined emperor; Gladiator would have been more impressive if it had stepped past its own righteousness and shown more sympathy for its own devil.

Still, it's nice to see massive entertainment like this on the big screen. Perhaps, if this makes some money, it may be possible to explore wider stories and more complex themes, rather than the stubborn preservation of outdated societal models that a movie like this endorses. Surprise and delight us! After all, as Scott himself says (in an ironic statement that seems to have slipped over the heads of the executives at DreamWorks and Universal), "Entertainment has frequently been used by leaders as a means to distract an abused citizenry." If that's not a call for real heroes to rise, what is?

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