Archive for Friday, May 14, 2004

Troy’ delivers epic tale of warfare

(R) ***

May 14, 2004

Achilles. Ajax. Paris. Odysseus.

Thousands of years after these legendary figures lived, their names still hold meaning - even if some people only know them as body parts or household cleaners.

"Troy" attempts to envision these godlike warriors, princes and kings as real men. For the most part, the entertaining picture succeeds by giving believable personalities to the individuals caught up in a fabled war.

What strikes one while watching "Troy" is how great the story holds up. Despite being written nearly 3,000 years ago, Homer's "Illiad" proves surprisingly contemporary in its views about the ramifications and senselessness of war.

Director Wolfgang Petersen ("The Perfect Storm") and writer David
Benioff ("The 25th Hour") keep the intricate tale reasonably faithful to the source material. Aside from condensing a few characters and expanding the roles of others, the one fundamental change is they don't show the Gods actively taking part in the story. While religious beliefs play a role in the lives of these cultures, they are merely ideological phantoms in "Troy."

This ain't no "Clash of the Titans."

For those who are a little rusty in their mythology, the film begins by showing how the united Greek kingdoms under Agamemnon (Brian Cox) have added one more tribe to its rule, thanks in large part to his formidable-but-contemptuous warrior Achilles (Brad Pitt).

When Trojan prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) steals Helen of Sparta (Diane Kruger) away from her husband, King Menelaus (Brendan
Gleeson), the deed causes dire repercussions. Menelaus asks his
brother Agamemnon for assistance, and together they sail 1,000 ships
toward the impenetrable walls of Troy (located in modern times off
the western coast of Turkey).

Agamemnon is using this personal vendetta as an excuse to conquer the city in order to control all of the Aegean Sea. But the Trojan King
Priam (Peter O'Toole) and his mighty son Hector (Eric Bana) have no
intention of returning Helen to their enemy.

Epic battles ensue.

The reported budget ($185 million) of "Troy" rivals that of the all-time most expensive movie, "Titanic," and apparently all of the project's money made it onto the screen. Although impressive scenes of large-scale combat have been staged lately through the magic of CGI effects - "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy is certainly at the forefront - the monumental engagements set atop the sun-drenched beaches of Troy are the first to genuinely fool the eye. It's just impossible to tell what is real and what is digital when viewing the skirmishes between the tens of thousand warriors in these sequences.

Coming off the fakery overkill of last week's "Van Helsing," it's refreshing to see computer imagery used to improve a story instead of BECOMING the story.

Like "Titanic," the new film also has the one key ingredient that will help it be a mega-blockbuster: It equally appeals to both men and women.

Credit the casting for the latter's allure.

As many great character actors as there are in "Troy," this is a movie structured around Brad Pitt. The collective swoon was audible in the theater when the comely Mr. Aniston first appeared on the screen - bare-bottomed and oily, no less.

He portrays the lethal Achilles as a conflicted man whose only sense of honor is to his personal troops. The Greek is also consumed by his own vanity, and his motivation for fighting is based on how it will ensure his future legend. ("This war will never be forgotten, nor the
heroes who fight in it," he is assured.)

The character as written is fairly intriguing, but Pitt, for all his good looks and charisma has great difficulty pulling it off. Although fellow cast members such as Bloom and O'Toole effortlessly adapt to period roles, Pitt is just innately modern. He is frequently an effective, quirky actor ("Fight Club," "Snatch"), but here he seems overmatched by the enormous scale of the film.

"Troy" is very talky for an action movie, and a large portion of these monologues fall into the lap of Pitt. There are few things more annoying than a soul-searching pretty boy, other than a
soul-searching pretty boy who talks a lot.

Fortunately, this movie is bigger than Pitt.

In fact, "Troy" is big in all the right ways: big battles, big sets, big actors, big themes.

It results in big entertainment of epic proportions.

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