**1/2 (out of 5)
May 14, 2004
Brad Pitt as ACHILLES
Eric Bana as HECTOR
Orlando Bloom as PARIS
Diane Kruger as HELEN
Brian Cox as AGAMEMNON
Sean Bean as ODYSSEUS
Brendan Gleeson as MENELAUS
Peter O’Toole as PRIAM
Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
BY KEVIN CARR
This must be the year of overblown historical epics. First, Touchstone Pictures gave us “The Alamo” in all of its anticlimactic glory. Now, Warner Bros. is unleashing a smelly, apish Brad Pitt as Achilles in “Troy.”
I really wanted to like “Troy.” I really wanted to love “Troy.” I wanted “Troy” to be “Gladiator,” “Spartacus” and “The Passion of the Christ” all rolled into one. It had a lot going for it, namely director Wolfgang Petersen. Wolfgang is one of the best directors out there now. Ever since “Das Boot” (and I’m not including his earlier German work simply because I have not seen it), he hasn’t really made a bad film.
Oh, he’s had his ups and downs. But all of his American films have been powerful, tense and wonderfully directed. I expected more from the guy.
It’s not that Wolfgang doesn’t try. In fact, he actually tries too hard with “Troy.” After the seventh or eighth time you’ve seen the 50,000-strong Greek army peppering the landscape, thanks to handy-dandy CGI, it becomes mundane. The modern “cast of thousands” just isn’t as impressive when you know it’s mere pixels on a computer screen.
The first arrow in the Achilles heel of this film is its running time. At 163 minutes, the film drags. The battle sequences are pretty cool. However, in the wake of other intense Hollywood battle scenes, it’s clear Wolfgang was trying to be effective without copying “Braveheart,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “Gladiator.”
The violence is strung together with scenes of insipid dialogue and whining characters, making the bloated running time unnecessary. Why is it that studio execs will force a 100-minute comedy to trim 10 minutes from its final cut, but if you turn out a film where the actors wear sandals and carry swords, you’re justified in a three-hour film?
The other arrow is the cast. “Troy” is both blessed and cursed when it comes to its actors. They are either tremendous or terrible. Let’s start off with the weak ones.
Brad Pitt. He makes a lousy Achilles. Too many times, he channels Russell Crowe with a forced deep voice. He either struts to look pretty or twists his face into his pouty angry look that hasn’t worked since “Legends of the Fall.”
Saffron Burrows. She looks like she’s got cancer, she’s so thin. As Andromache, Hector’s wife, she plods through weepy dialogue, carrying a child more meaty than she is.
Diane Kruger as Helen of Troy. She’s beautiful. That’s about it, though, not particularly engaging as an actor. She’s eye candy, but the film could have been blessed with a better Helen – and one that could act. (This is Hollywood, after all, where all the beautiful actresses end up.)
Orlando Bloom as Paris bridges the gap between bad acting and good. Bloom himself isn’t that great of a thespian. He’s made for the wimpy supporting role in a period piece. It’s this flavor he brings from “Pirates of the Caribbean” that help him make a decent Paris. But when the most macho character you play is Legolas the Elf, what are you gonna do?
And now, this brings us to the good actors. “Troy” has some of the best acting I’ve seen in a long time. In fact, it’s a film unworthy of an Oscar, but should clean up for acting. Here are the reasons to see the film.
Eric Bana. Yeah, he stunk as the Hulk, but he rocks as Hector. There are some fleeting moments where he also channels Russel Crowe, but he emerges as a powerful hero. It takes a special guy to out-macho Brad Pitt on screen, but Bana does it with ease.
Brendan Gleeson. Let’s face it. No one knows him by name, but if you say, “The father from ‘28 Days Later,’” “Mel Gibson’s buddy from ‘Braveheart’” or “The sheriff from ‘Lake Placid,’” most people will know who you’re speaking about. Gleeson plays Menelaus, the king of Sparta and estranged husband of Helen. He is always awesome in his roles, and he shines in his sword battle with Hector (which turns out to be far more impressive than Hector’s bout with Achilles).
Brian Cox. He’s been slumming through movies since the 70s. His original wishy-washy Hannibal Lecter was trumped by Anthony Hopkins, but now Cox is emerging as a great actor of this age. With stand-out performances in films like “Adaptation” and “X2: X-Men United,” it’s no surprise that Cox eats up the screen as the ultimate megalomaniacal king Agamemnon. He manages to be ruthless, loveable, evil and fatherly all at the same time. If Cox’s performance doesn’t earn him at least an Oscar nomination, I’ll be surprised.
“Troy” has all the elements of a classic story: love, betrayal, honor, glory and bravery. It should, considering it’s based on Homer’s “The Iliad,” a landmark in classical fiction. But in many ways, the ideals of Greece 3000 years ago just don’t jive with the ideals of today. The concept of the ultimate warrior is less noble now, considering we no longer live in a society with people born to be slaves, soldiers or royalty. This, coupled with the fact that most people know Achilles more by his weakness than his art of war, makes him less of a hero and more of a heel.