—Originally published 5.21.04
"Troy" was relatively well-received by critics, which surprised me. Getting ready for last week's box-office champion, I expected to read similar scathing remarks as seen the week before regarding "Van Helsing."
But, like others, I was pleasantly surprised -- if not ultimately satisfied -- by the trek into ancient Greece.
"Troy" is a movie I'll probably never watch again, but that doesn't mean it wasn't worth seeing. It has too many flaws to be considered a "great" epic (much as it strives to be one), but director Wolfgang Petersen gives an admirable attempt at what is probably impossible -- transferring Homer's "The Iliad" onto the silver screen.
Golden-haired and bronze-skinned Brad Pitt is buffed out to the max for his starring role as legendary Greek warrior Achilles, who (in this version, anyway) reticently fights to retrieve Helen (Diane Kruger) from the loving embrace of womanizing Trojan prince Paris (Orlando Bloom).
Petersen ("The Perfect Storm") and screenwriter David Benioff ("25th Hour") portray their main character -- accurately or not -- along the lines of other epic heroes of recent cinema history; like Mel Gibson's William Wallace from "Braveheart" and Russell Crowe's Maximus from "Gladiator," Achilles is disillusioned with his life of combat and would seemingly like nothing more than to settle down in peace.
However, he has that nagging problem of all Greek heroes -- hubris. Achilles' pride proves to be his downfall, as an overpowering desire to be "remembered through the ages" spurs him to battle (this dilemma is pounded into us over and over and over again).
Pitt's best performances come from quirky, rascally characters like Tyler Durden in "Fight Club," Mickey O'Neil in "Snatch" and Rusty Ryan from "Ocean's Eleven." Achilles is definitely not of that ilk, and Pitt struggles to hit the high notes required of a god-like warrior. (The script doesn't do him any favors, though, with cringe-inducing lines like, "Immortality! Take it! It's yours!")
Pitt handles the intimate scenes much better. His climactic one-on-one battle with Paris' brother, Hector (played brilliantly by Eric Bana), provides the best scene of the film, followed closely by Achilles' interaction with captured Trojan priestess Briseis (Rose Byrne) and Trojan King Priam (Peter O'Toole). Thankfully, Pitt spends the last third of this nearly three-hour monstrosity in a more subdued tone and thus saves "Troy."
There are plenty of battles, but none of it seems particularly interesting. We've seen this before -- and at higher quality -- in "The Lord of the Rings." For a scenario that launched a thousand ships, it's the close fighting between Achilles and his foes that really provides a spark. Unfortunately, these are few and far between.
The movie's real Achilles' heel, though, is the script, as Roger Ebert so correctly assessed in his review. For the dialogue in ancient epics to work, the screenwriter must commit to one style of speech -- typically archaic, if you're seeking Oscar gold. Sure, lines from movies like "Lord of the Rings" and "Gladiator" can come off stilted at times, but they're not as noticeable so long as everybody is talking that way.
In "Troy," however, you have the typical "epic speech" butting right up next to Agamemnon -- leader of the Greek army played by Brian Cox -- cracking wise like it's 1999 A.D. The incongruity just doesn't work.
So what, then, are we left with? Essentially a typical Hollywood war movie with some romance to draw in the ladies (complete with Brad Pitt's bare chest and nearly bare butt). Not exactly groundbreaking, but not exactly bad, either -- at least for the final hour.