Troy Review

by Harvey S. Karten (harveycritic AT cs DOT com)
May 12th, 2004


Reviewed by Harvey S. Karten
Warner Bros./Radiant Production
Grade: B+
Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
Written by: David Benioff, inspired by Homer's "The Iliad" Cast: Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Diane Kruger, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Brendan Gleeson, Peter O'Toole, Rose Byrne, Saffron Burrows, Julie Christie
Screened at: Astor Plaza, NYC, 5/11/04

    Years back, when the only signs of a healthy culture were mankind's selective tenderness toward women and a refusal to look at their lit-up cell phones in a movie theater, there arose two geographic entities locked in a ten-year struggle made famous by Homer's "Iliad," Virgil's "The Aeneid" and other sources of Greek mythology and history. As we watch the one hundred sixty-three minutes' project of Wolfgang Petersen, "Troy," we look upon both the heroes and zeroes as precursors of leaders and buffoons of our own benighted times.

    The principal characters of "Troy," scripted by David Benioff who was inspired by a collection of such writers, could easily have existed in today's world. Achilles, for example, is a warrior that matches up nicely with President George W. Bush. As played by the Brad Pitt, whose soulful eyes betray a mixture of kindness (toward women) and murderous rage (toward his enemies), he has an attitude, "I'll-go-it-alone-and-to-Hades-with- the-rest-of-the-world's-politicians." Unlike Mr. Bush, Achilles does not kowtow to captains of industry and war, but that's where the contradictions end, for Achilles wants principally to be remembered thousands of years after his exploits as the warrior-king. Unlike President Nixon, who once said that he would not be the first American leader to preside over a defeat in war, Achilles does not give a damn who wins or loses, the Greeks or the Trojans. He's out for himself, for his position in history, a preening warrior played with appropriate narcissism by Brad Pitt.

    Yet Mr. Petersen's movie is not anchored on any one hero, his characterizations spread, instead, among a group of the nobility One of the number is the Trojan prince Hector (Eric Bana), who like Cincinnatus would nothing better than to cast his swords into plowshares and live contented with his family; If that brings to mind any major American official today, you're a better political scientist than I am. Another is Paris (Orlando Bloom), a home-breaker if ever there was one, the guy who cuckolds the brother of Spartan honcho Menelaus, played without glee by Brendan Gleeson. Can you think of one of our recent leaders with such a flippant attitude toward marriage? In fairness to Paris, however, we must admit that no red-blooded man's loins could be anything but agitated by the sight of the fair Helen (German-born Diane Kruger), who contrary to some scholarship was not kidnapped but who went with Paris out of lust for his looks and tender age and her disgust with the much older Menelaus. ("Every moment with him, I felt like jumping into the ocean," she intones.)

    For his part, Agamemnon (Brian Cox) uses his brother's cuckolding as a mere excuse for his real ambition. Having unified the otherwise divisive Greek city-states on the Peloponnese and spots north, he wants only to add to his empire and is perfectly willing to sacrifice 40,000 of his own men for that purpose which sort of makes you wonder what's in the battles for the particular 40,000 of Agamemnon's power-crazed fantasy. Perhaps there's a straight line from him to the former Chinese leader Mao, who allegedly said that 100,000,000 Chinese could die in a war but that the country would emerge victorious, or maybe even Japanese Premier Tojo and Emperor Hirohito, who were not convinced to surrender even after two atomic bombs devastated their country.

    Though Petersen does not have a single, central focus, his set design including the famous Trojan horse was assembled in London's Shepperton studios, while battle scenes were filmed in Los Cabos on the southern tip of Baja California and in Malta. Given that thousands of Bulgarians, Mexicans, Maltese and Brits were hired for the project punctuates this age of

    Costing $175,000,000 to make and who knows how much more in marketing costs, "Troy" punctuates one battle scene after another, its principal weakness lying not in the free adaptation of "The Iliad" or other mythological and literary sources but in the banality of the quiet scenes. While women may drool over the newly buff Brad Pitt, who began putting on weight and working out vigorously six months before filming began, his romantic chats with a Trojan woman with whom the Greeks almost had their way comes out of Cecil B. DeMille casting, and Pitt's eyes, perhaps his most expressive part, fails to evoke his feelings.

    That said, however, "Troy" joins with "The Longest Day,' "The Last Samurai," "Ran," and "Saving Private Ryan" for its in-your- face battles. Archers regularly use their arrows, inflicting great losses, though perhaps one can explain how a projectile shot at 45 degrees could harm anyone. When swords are not be actively used, the men batter one another senseless with their shields. The one truly awesome scene features the blazing balls of fire sent into the Trojan camp with the force of a napalm strike in Danang. When the Trojan king, Priam ( played by the seventy-one-year-old Peter O'Toole whose fairly brief time onscreen puts Pitt to shame), risks his life by going into Achilles's tent to plead for the return of his son, Hector's body, we wonder whether any head of state today would have the guts to put his own life on the line as a model to the soldiers he "bravely" consigns to be cannon fodder.

    All in all, "Troy" evokes the glories of the old spectacular pics with their inevitably clunky dialogue like "The Ten Commandments" and "Ben-Hur," giving the women in the audience enough biceps to embrace their fantasies and the men a respite from modern video games with massive modern shoot-outs and maybe even a new interest by students in their ancient history units. Pity the teachers of the world, however. Their talking heads, their TV videocassettes and DVDs, their assignments to read Chapter 2 in "Hammond's World History" will not be quite able to compete with the battle magic of "Troy."
Rated R. 163 minutes. Copyright 2004 by Harvey Karten

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