(Originally published 2004)
Wolfgang Petersen’s $200 million blockbuster-hopeful "Troy," a sword-and-sandal epic inspired by Homer’s "Iliad" and key elements of Virgil’s "Aeneid," may star Brad Pitt in the lead, but he’s no reason to see the film.
Instead, its Australian-born Eric Bana ("Hulk") who rises from the film’s blood, severed limbs and ashes to deliver a performance that’s so confident, it galvanizes an otherwise lightweight movie undeserving of its 2 1/2 hour running time.
Based on a screenplay by David Benioff, the film is sandbagged by a been-there, seen-that feel, one especially heightened due to years of other movies whose stories also were centered around major battle scenes--"The Alamo," "The Patriot," "Gladiator," "Braveheart" and "The Lord of the Rings" series chief among them.
"Troy" tries to mount interest in its battles, but Petersen ("Das Boot") shoots them in such tight, claustrophobic close-up, all scale is lost just when it’s needed most.
The chaos of war is achieved here, but what’s missing is an emotional connection to the death that hovers over it. This is one of the most ambivalent war movies Hollywood has produced, with the viewer not always clear for whom to root. The result is a great looking yet curiously passionless movie that lacks personality and heart.
The film stars Pitt as Achilles, the Greek warrior God who, in this movie, looks like Fabio by way of Goldilocks. With his plump, dewy lips and impossibly golden curls, some might confuse this Achilles for Helen if Pitt weren’t so newly buff.
As the film begins, Helen (Diane Kruger) has caused more than her share of trouble. After leaving her husband, King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) of Sparta, for the likes of Paris (Orlando Bloom), cowardly son of Troy’s King Priam (Peter O’Toole), King Agamemnon (Brian Cox) of Mycenaeans sends his troops to conquer Troy.
He doesn’t do so out of loyalty to his brother, Menelaus, though that is how he makes it appear. Instead, he does so because Helen’s betrayal has given him an excuse to finally take over Troy, even if it means the slaughtering of thousands of his own men.
It’s Bana’s Prince Hector who leads Troy’s troops, and he has just enough smoldering bluster to make you believe Troy is a force even if they’re grossly outnumbered. When he fights Achilles, whom we learn time and again no one can defeat, Petersen realizes his best action scene, one that draws us into the fight because we care for Hector in ways that we don’t care for anyone else in the movie.
There are moments in "Troy" that do linger, such as when Hector casts huge balls of fire toward his enemy, and especially a key scene between Priam and Achilles that comes late in the film.
But where are the immortal gods of Homer’s poem? Was Petersen fearful of creating another "Clash of the Titans" if he allowed them to throw thunderbolts in his movie? Worse is the dialogue, which is stiff and sometimes silly, especially when spoken by Pitt, whose self-conscious performance sends this movie down the Aegean and drowns it in hair products.
(Also available on Blu-ray disc and on HD DVD)