Rated R - Running Time: 2:43 - Released 5/14/04

One would think that Troy, Wolfgang Peterson’s huge-budget epic about the Trojan War that is based on Homer’s The Iliad, would seem like ancient history. I mean, it is ancient history—The Iliad is one of the oldest stories ever written. But then I saw the plot: A selfish and petty political leader takes his country to war for spite, sending thousands to die so that he may gain power, put his name in the history books, and settle some silly score between him and another ruler. Jeez, that’s exactly what’s going on right now! Unfortunately, although the film’s visual elements and special effects reveal the traditionally obscene excess in Hollywood blockbuster movies, the screen adaptation, by David Benioff, and most of the acting in Troy is not much smarter than the rhetoric that is being spouted on the TV news every day from our own golden ruler. I suppose art imitates life after all.

As the film begins in the year 1193 B.C., we learn that Greece, the then-predominant world power ruled by the egotistical and obnoxious King Agamemnon (Brian Cox), has had ongoing tensions with Troy, the city across the Aegean Sea ruled by King Priam (Peter O’Toole), who bears a striking resemblance to Lawrence of Arabia. But the two powers have recently come to an accord, and it looks like there’s going to be peace at last. Which is a disappointment to Agamemnon, because he hasn’t yet gotten the chance to use his ace-in-the-hole, his greatest soldier, his angry, argumentative primadonna of a general, the legendary, purportedly unkillable Achilles (Brad Pitt), against the Trojans. I mean, what’s the fun of ongoing tensions if you can’t sic your biggest dog on the enemy?

But that problem is soon solved, because during the Trojans’ diplomatic visit to the Greek city of Sparta, Priam’s younger son Paris (Orlando Bloom) falls in love with this local chick named Helen (Diane Kruger), who happens to be the wife of the Spartan ruler Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson). So when Paris and his big brother Hector (Eric Bana), who is the Trojan version of the super-warrior thought to be Achilles’ equal, leave for home, Paris smuggles Helen on board with him. And wouldn’t you know it, Menelaus notices she’s not there at dinner that evening...I mean after all, she has the face that launched a thousand ships. And in fact, that’s exactly what it does—Menelaus goes to Agamemnon, who never really wanted peace with Troy anyway, and they fire up the armada and head gleefully off to Troy in hot pursuit.

Although Menelaus’s only reason for declaring war is to get his wife back, Agamemnon really wants to defeat Troy so he can become its ruler, so when the Greeks land at the beach, a huge battle breaks out. Before you know it (or, more accurately, long after you wished the movie were over and you were on your way home), Achilles and Hector match up for the ancient equivalent of the WWE Smackdown of the Century, to settle once and for all who gets Helen, who gets Troy, and who in the audience gets the sorest behind.

I don’t know if German-born director Petersen, whose more recent credits include Outbreak, Air Force One, and The Perfect Storm, and writer Benioff, who broke onto the scene two years ago with the Spike Lee-directed adaptation of his own novel 25th Hour, intended for this to be a tribute to those extremely expensive, showy, and badly acted classics of the 1960s like The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur, or whether it happened by accident. But this movie makes it look like there haven’t been any advances in dialogue and acting technique since Charlton Heston’s day. The writing is pedestrian, bloodless, artless...the lines are stilted and unconvincing...and the acting, astoundingly, matches. The fact that all these actors have proven they have immense talent in the past points the blame squarely at the writer and director. There is hardly a line in this movie which sounds believable, and that’s a shame because the movie is ALMOST THREE HOURS LONG!

It would be nice if I could at least say the action sequences are realistic, or intense, or exciting. But with a few exceptions, they’re mainly just long, loud, and boring. Thousands of soldiers jumping around, hacking away at each other with their plastic helmets and toy swords from Wal-Mart, is okay for a little while, but I’ve seen comparable acting in my own back yard, and the actors were only 9 years old.

Not everything about this movie failed. It is a beautiful, epic film, rich with period accoutrements and pretty faces. The sets are glorious, James Horner’s music is beautiful, and some of the actors, like Cox and O’Toole, at least try to make their dialogue sound realistic. Ditto for Lord Of The Rings vet Sean Bean, who plays Achilles’ pal Odysseus with some cred. But Pitt is nothing more than a pretty boy in a leather skirt. He fades in and out of his British accent like Princess Leia in Star Wars. Why should he have a British accent anyway? I kept imagining O’Toole saying to himself “What is he doing?” Bana and Bloom are adequate, nothing more. And Kruger—well, she definitely has the face, let’s put it that way.

I can’t help but think that if Homer were alive to see his great work treated in such a way, he would be forced to utter that great quote he is known for: “D-ohhh!” **½

Copyright 2004 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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