Common Sense Media says
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this is a very violent movie. A woman and child are brutally tortured and killed (mostly off-screen). People are sliced up, burned, and crucified. There are references to rape and incest.
What's the story?
In 180 AD Rome, the aging Caesar (Richard Harris) watches as Maximus (Russell Crowe), his most trusted general, fights the barbarians in Germania in a terrible, bloody battle. Caesar's son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) wants to succeed his father, but Caesar doesn't think he has what it takes. When Caesar chooses Maximus to lead the people back to democracy, Commodus kills his father before the senate hears about Maximus, then orders the execution of Maximus and his family. Maximus escapes, is captured, sold into slavery, and becomes a gladiator. To confront Commodus, he must win enough fights to be called to Rome. Meanwhile, Commodus finds ways to distract the populace while he disables the Senate. The only one he trusts is his sister, Lucilla (Connie Nielsen), who pretends to support him to protect her young son.
Is it any good?
GLADIATOR is a movie of such astounding scope and sweep and such masterful story-telling that it makes its storyline seem classic rather than clichéd. Breathtakingly sumptuous visuals credibly re-create the world of Rome in 180 AD, a world of unimaginable reach and power. Director Ridley Scott stages the fight scenes brilliantly, each more inventive and gripping than the last. The results are something like a deranged computer game, with new peril coming literally from all sides.
Fellow gladiator Juba (Djimon Hounsou) explains the appeal of the fights when he says that fear and wonder are a powerful combination. Two thousand years later, little has changed. We may not pay to see people kill each other any more, but we pay to see them pretend to do so, and we pay to see them come pretty close in sports like boxing, hockey, wrestling, and football.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about why it is that people are drawn to watch other people battle and what the appeal is of movies like this and full contact sports. Notice that, like Odysseus in the land of the Cyclops, Maximus will not use his name until he has done something he can be proud of. Why didn't Commodus just have him killed? Why did Commodus (a little like the WWF's Vince McMahon) decide to participate in the combat? What does it mean to "smile back" at death? Compare the lists of virtues claimed by Caesar and Commodus. Which are the most important? One of the movie's great challenges is making its world seem very different to us without making it impossible to identify with the characters. The story is told without any sense of irony or distance. Some older kids will have some good thoughts on how that is accomplished.