Maximus, general of the Roman army, declines to serve the new Emperor and ends up a slave/gladiator fighting for his life and for the entertainment of others. When he is brought to Rome and fights before the new Caesar he eventually realizes his power, even as a slave, to turn the people against the evil emperor.
The movie was pretty violent, but the story is a lot deeper than the cool fight scenes. A very tense plot unravels as we see the good emperor overthrown by his evil son along with the possible passing of the crown to the worthy general of the Roman armies. I highly recommend this if it comes out on TV, or you happen to have a way to edit the grisly R version.
Moral Value - Failure to communicate?
In the beginning, when offered the empire, Maximus declined the honors of becoming Caesar because his first priority was returning to his simple life with his family. There's a good chance he would have accepted the offer if things hadn't gone the way they did. Maximus realized the reason that the dying emperor chose him was because of his adherence to dignity and virtue - the only one who could combat the corruption that existed in the Senate.
Maximus is a man of very high morals and trades them in for nothing; he loves his country and will do anything to help keep his fellow countrymen free. Similar to Karate Kid, though Maximus's foe was much more evil, Maximus was able to challenge his enemy in an "official" or accepted arena, showing that there are appropriate ways to conquer the enemy, even to the death.
The loneliness Commodus brought on himself because of his ambition and treachery is very well portrayed.