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With Troy, Hollywood provides a pared down version of Homer's classic The Iliad, mixed with Virgil's Aenid and other story elements derived from Greek mythology. Gone are gods such as Zeus, Aphrodite, and Athena, who pulled strings and manipulated the human characters. This is an epic for people who would rather not deal with the supernatural elements of Homer's tragic tale.

The story focuses on the human characters, explaining their motivations in strictly human terms. For example, instead of building Achilles' prowess as a warrior upon the fact that as a child his mother dipped him into the River Styx, which made him impervious to all weapons — except for his heel, which was covered by his mother's hand — we get an Achilles fixated on his own mortality and the means to make his name live forever.

In the process, some of the old charm of Homer's fanciful tale is now gone, and it's replaced with a secular vision that makes Achilles resemble a moody, temperamental rock star. What the movie makes up in terms of providing us with real human characters that we can care about (such as Achilles' foe Hector), it fumbles by providing us with an Achilles who comes straight out of the 21st Century.

Brad Pitt is way out of his element in Troy. His pretty boy image might work if he were indeed the half-human/half-nymph of Homer's tale. But as a human character, he pales compared to, for example, Russell Crowe in Gladiator. Pitt attempts to convey the psychic weight of his character by using a sullen demeanor and the icy distance of a disaffected artist. But we're never given enough insight into Achilles, other than his desire to make his name immortal, to engage our passion about his plight. Here is where Crowe excelled in spades in Gladiator. But Pitt — who laughably attempts a British sounding accent in order to sound like the other cast members — is relatively insubstantial compared to Crowe. And as it casts its fate on Pitt's shoulders, the movie stumbles badly.

However, beyond Pitt and the arguably suspect notion of eliminating the gods from Homer's tale, there is much to recommend in Troy, such as Eric Bana's performance as Hector, Brian Cox's performance as Agamemnon, and director Wolfgang Petersen's handling of the battle sequences. Troy takes place on a truly immense scale, with a beach invasion that must rival Normandy. 1,000 ships arrive on the beach near Troy and then lay siege on the city. Much of the backgrounds and settings for these scenes are accomplished by way of CGI effects, which in general are of very high caliber. Battles are carefully worked out with warriors performing maneuvers with shields upraised to fend off a hail of arrows. The walls of Troy tower above the battlefield, a monumental, impregnable fortress that must be breached with wit instead of brute force.

Unfortunately, however, the Trojan Horse scene is one of the weaker scenes in the movie. Because the filmmakers go for realism instead of fantasy (or allegory), the scene seriously stretches credibility. In a fantasy film, the scene works as grand scale fun, but in a big Hollywood production that strives to make you care about its characters, the scene becomes a brazen lark.

In other respects, though, the movie presents us with clever rewrites of Homer's tale so that it makes sense when told in a realistic environment. For example, in this retelling, Helen's face didn't really launch a thousand ships. No, it was less her beauty than it was the egoism of Agamemnon. He wasn't particularly interested in recapturing Helen (Diane Kruger) and returning her to Greece. No, this was only a cover for him to take action against Troy and claim the Trojan territory as his own. But then screenwriter David Benioff stumbles badly by rewriting Helen's attraction to Prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) as beautiful, all-consuming love. Without Aphrodite to inspire Helen's passion, this love that triggers the Trojan War becomes insubstantial (and a bit of a bore).

Despite the filmmakers' attempts to jettison fantasy from the story, Troy is best approached as pure nonsense. It wastes actors such as Peter O'Toole (in a horribly underwritten role that gives him nothing to sink his teeth into) and misuses actors such as Orlando Bloom (in a lightweight piffle of a role that hardly registers), but the storytelling is still fun, in a campy, instantly-disposable, outlandish sort of fashion.

[rating: 2.5 of 4 stars]

Distributor Web site: Warner Bros.
Movie Web site: Troy



Photos: © 2004 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
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