The film retells (with some dramatic license) the true story of an uprising in Palestine of a ragtag band of Jews, in a fortress called Masada, who refuse to surrender to the governing Romans. O'Toole, as Flavius Silva, is the brilliant commander who, over the course of several years of trying, and failing, to breach Masada, comes to regard the leader of his foes, Eleazar ben Yair (the charismatic Peter Strauss), with a certain amount of respect and awe. If left to Flavius, he might have simply leave the holdout fortress and return to the Italy he so longs for; but the Roman emperor demands victory--at any cost.
The performances are uniformly crisp and believable; the direction by Boris Sagal, economical; the screenplay, sharp and incisive. David Warner, who won an Emmy for his performance, plays the brutal Roman henchman Falco with seething determination. The location shooting is nothing short of spectacular. There is sorrow in the story of Masada, but an uplifting message in the ability of true believers to create their own destiny. --A.T. Hurley