(In theaters, May 2000) A nice surprise with a few problems. While the title, packaging and previews would seem to sell a straight historical action film with plenty of fancy fighting set-pieces, Gladiator is really more of an old-fashioned historical epic, with political machinations, romantic interludes and tragic sacrifices. Moreover, the action scenes fail to attain true greatness by an annoying over-reliance on gimmicky special effects. (CGI extensions, sure, but most egregiously the step-printing and the exasperating quick cuts) Director Ridley Scott never provides a shot-to-shot continuity of action, and the film suffers from, basically, a cruel lack of long-shot look at the action. (The opening Roma-versus-Germania battle, fortunately, does so and is much more impressive because of it. But look at the gladiator-versus-chariot fight to see how much more impressive it would have been with a few continuous long shots.) Still, the film thrives on Russell Crowe’s impressive charisma and on a strong heroic arc. A good movie, just short of being great.