The opening scene is particularly exceptional. The intrigue gets going pretty quickly putting our unwilling hero in a real and fatal mess. Each piece of the drama is put in place carefully, until everything comes together and the clash happens. It's one of Ridley Scott's great movies.
Russel Crowe is the perfect hero, Joaquin Phoenix is truly mad, and both are irresistibly aimed at each other. Connie Nielsen play a very frightened sister that's at the same time courageous, yet worried about her son.
This time, I tried listening to it with a very critical eye and I found only the last moment of clarity of Maximus, when he gives his last order, to be a weak and somewhat artificial moment. Beyond that, unlike him, I would have bent my neck right away, and plotted after, but that's a personal decision. It would have killed the whole paradigm right away and made me less of righteous a hero than him.
Anyway you dice it or slice it, it's a must see, unless you have difficulty with violence.