Wolfgang Petersen's Troy is part Hollywood war movie, part Greek tragedy, part beefcake calendar, all cinematic spectacle. With Brad Pitt in the lead role and a price tag that falls somewhere between $175 million and $200 million (remember when we gasped at a $30 million production cost?), it's hard not to hate.
But Troy, "inspired" by Homer's Iliad as we are informed in the final credits, is a blast, a massive entertainment with a handful of substantial characters and a muted anti-war message.
The film opens with a banquet in the palace of Menelaus, King of Sparta (Brendan Gleeson). A peace treaty has just been pounded out between Sparta and Troy, represented by Prince Hector (Eric Bana). As the party advances into the wee hours, Hector's playboy brother Paris (Orlando Bloom) beds Menelaus' unhappy wife, Helen (Diane Kruger).
The next day, en route back to Troy, Paris reveals to Hector that he has smuggled Helen onboard their ship. Thus is set the scenario for Menelaus' revenge and the legend of the "face that launched a thousand ships."
Menelaus enlists his empire-builder brother Agamemnon (Brian Cox) and the kings of several other Greek tribes, including Odysseus (Sean Bean), to form a massive coalition to conquer Troy. Reluctantly going along for the ride -- not for political reasons but because he believes the battle will bring him eternal glory -- is the great but sullen warrior Achilles (Brad Pitt), immortal son of a minor goddess.
Achilles' band of loyalists storms the beach at Troy in a bone-rattling clash of shields, armor and spears. Arrogant and disrespectful, Achilles chops Apollo's head off the statue that fronts the temple, signaling his contempt for superstition and cluing the audience that there will be no appearances by gods in this tale of Troy.
Many battles ensue, the beach is strewn with dead bodies, Achilles retreats to his tent with captive Trojan priestess Briseus (Rose Byrne), Agamemnon fumes, Menelaus confronts Paris, all leading up to the ultimate confrontation between the never-before-defeated Hector and Achilles and the sacking of Troy.
"War is young men dying and old men talking," says Odysseus, a theme repeated as Priam, King of Troy (Peter O'Toole) and his advisory panel of elders, Agamemnon and his council, plot the war and justify its continuance. "Honor the gods, love your woman, fight for your country" is the creed that drives the painfully responsible Hector. "History remembers kings, not soldiers," we are reminded as the camera scans a minefield of dead bodies.
Many elements rescue Troy from its inherent hubris. Bana is soulful and conflicted as Hector. Cox and Gleeson as Agamemnon and Menelaus are larger-than-life zealots, bent on revenge and glory. O'Toole is regal and captivating in every scene where he appears, particularly in a late scene with Achilles. ("I loved my boy from the moment he opened his eyes to the moment you closed them," he intones, in a voice that's pure heartache.) And Pitt, in spite of his flat delivery of many lines that sound absurd coming out of his mouth, compensates with astonishing physical presence and a wry knowledge of his character's emotional shortcomings.
Bloom is too prissy to make an impact as Paris; Helen is a walking Revlon ad, hardly a strong enough presence to rock a civilization. The film is too long by about 20 minutes -- eliminating one battle scene and at least one funeral pyre would have helped.
But overall, Troy succeeds. Don't expect either Homer's poetics or great Greek tragedy (except in O'Toole's transcendent moments). This is ancient history writ large for a 21st-century audience, with flash and spectacle and a dash of introspection. It's far more fun than a day at the Roman coliseum, Gladiator-style.
-- Kathryn Eastburn
Cinemark 16, Kimballs Twin Peak, Tinseltown