'Troy' brings ancient tale to life
By Jack Garner
Gannett News Service
Three-and-a-Half Stars (Good-to-Excellent)
|Brad Pitt stars as the Greek warrior Achilles in "Troy," Wolfgang Petersen's adaptation of Homer's account of the Trojan War.
A story some 3,000 years old might seem a strange source for popcorn adventure, but the tales of "Troy" overflow with enough lust, blood, betrayal, greed and glory to more than resonate with modern audiences. Throw in a couple shots of Brad Pitt's bare buttocks, and you've got the makings of a box office draw.
Then again, "Troy" had better be a box office draw, for its budget has been estimated as approaching $200 million. And the film fights at least one uphill battle a running time of nearly three hours that'll challenge some filmgoers like the high walls of Troy challenged the Greeks.
Action maven Wolfgang Petersen (of "Das Boot" and "The Perfect Storm") brings the ancient tale of lust, warfare and the gods to life with high-tech special effects that turn a thousand extras into tens of thousands of warriors. The flesh-and-blood folks include "Lord of the Rings"' Orlando Bloom, Australian "Hulk" hunk Eric Bana, sexy newcomer Diane Kruger and esteemed veteran Peter O'Toole, in his meatiest role in at least 15 years as Priam, the king of "Troy."
Top-billed is the newly buff (and sometimes in-the-buff) Brad Pitt.
Pitt plays Achilles, the fierce warrior at the center of Homer's Iliad, the 2,700-year-old narrative of Greek kings and warriors manipulated by the gods to battle Troy for the sake of Helen (Kruger). The wife of a Greek king, Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) has left him for Trojan prince Paris (Bloom) and now lives with him in Troy. She is the proverbial "face that launched a thousand ships."
The Greeks are led by Menelaus' more powerful brother, the Greek King of Kings Agamemnon (Brian Cox). A thuggish megalomaniac in search of world domination, he views Helen as a perfect opportunity to conquer Troy. For Agamemnon, Helen is a woman of mass destruction, a convenient excuse for conquest. Agamemnon's most famous fighter is Achilles, but the warrior's own huge ego and independent spirit make him almost impossible to control.
The thousand ships arrive at Troy and the siege begins. Achilles is the Greeks' inspirational leader, as is Hector (Bana) for the Trojans. Their eventual battle mano a mano is potent stuff.
Screenwriter David Benioff (of "The 25th Hour") cobbles together a tale with familiar elements from Homer's "Iliad" (including the Hector-Achilles rivalry) and Virgil's "Aeneid" (including the memorable Trojan horse). But he also manipulates the history and the myth for his own purposes condensing the Greeks' 10-year siege into something that seems like 10 days. Benioff also kills off Agamemnon at Troy, though any literature student will tell you the king returned to Greece to die in his own personal domestic tragedy.
Although often engrossing and filled with action, "Troy" is far from flawless. The attempt to constantly place Achilles on center stage seems a bit forced. As played by Pitt, Achilles is too much the strutting peacock and too vague about his purposes to emerge heroic. (Despite Pitt's work in the weight room, the actor also seems undersized for such a legendary warrior.) Nonetheless, "Troy" offers more than a few memorable moments, including great, bloody, large-scale battles; well-staged, one-on-one conflicts; and at least one astonishing, beautifully acted scene between O'Toole's Priam and Pitt's Achilles.
Old pro O'Toole has made enough great epics from "Lawrence of Arabia" to "Becket" to know that small, painfully honest moments between two men breathe more life into a film than any clash between armies.
Rated for graphic violence and some sexuality and nudity.