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“May the gods be with you, ” says Trojan King Priam (Peter O’Toole) to his eldest son Hector (Eric Bana), as the young, handsome, extremely buff super-warrior prepares to do battle with the young, handsome, extremely buff super-duper warrior Achilles (Brad Pitt). Regrettably for Hector, the gods were away, off at the races where Zeus lost a small fortune when Pegasus failed to win the Mount Olympus Triple Crown. But that’s another epic poem for another time. The epic poem we’re currently concerned with is Homer’s The Iliad, on which the motion picture Troy is very, very, very, very, very loosely based.
Actually Troy could have used an intervention from the gods. Or a well-aimed thunderbolt. The movie’s blasÃ© mortal combat, starched screenplay, even starchier acting, and misplaced delusions of epic grandeur combine to create a experience that is both pointless and dull. There’s nary a thrill to be had, and absolutely no emotional resonance on hand. Even pouty little male diva Josh Groban’s belt-and-boom treatment of James Horner’s stomach-churning final credits song, “Remember, ” fails to tap into our emotional wellsprings.
Troy instructs us from one moment to the nextÂ exactly how it would like us to feel. But bigger, better epics have made us immune to this lesser, lousy film’s attempts at manipulative suggestion. It’s like watching a bad hypnotist try to work a room of well-fed, dozing kittens. By the time Brad Pitt’s Achilles has been fatally wounded in his one vulnerable spot and commences dying in a Trojan garden, gasping and heaving in Thespian-induced anguish, it’s all we can do to keep from stifling a yawn. We should be feeling Achilles’ pain. But the pain we’re feeling is in an area of a different sort, more in the gluteus maximus region, a numbness from sitting for two and a half hours, not including thirty minutes of previews.
In banishing the Greek gods from the scenario, Petersen and screenwriter David Benioff have no other choice but to wrap Homer’s immortal tale around a mortal coil, stripping the story of any genuine enjoyment. Reality is a lousy replacement for over-the-top spectacle. And Petersen’s adherence to realism in this case results in a movie that is flat, lifeless, without much cinematic drive. His one remotely watchable sequence arrives mid-film — a mighty battle at the walls of Troy complete with clanging swords, cluttering spears, and artful, misty spritzes of blood. Otherwise, there’s just no horsepower in this baby, unless you count the Trojan Horse, which Paris (Orlando Bloom) — who seduced the King of Sparta’s wife Helen (bland but pretty newcomer Diane Kruger) and prompted a full-scale attack by a united Greek front on his countrymen — sensibly advises his father, Priam, to destroy.
“I think we should burn it, ” says Paris.
The king ignores his younger son’s advice and has the large ancient piÃ±ata towed into Troy’s heretofore unbreachable walls. (What, had the ladder not yet been invented? Even the Orcs of Middle Earth had ladders.) The rest, as they say, is history.
The first half of the movie is all set-up, as the insolent, undefeatable warrior Achilles, who serves no king but fights because it’s what he was born to do, weighs his options. “This war will never be forgotten and nor will the heroes who fight in it, ” says Odysseus (Sean Bean) to Achilles. But the world’s greatest warrior isn’t entirely swayed until his own mother, Thetis (Julie Christie, occupying about three minutes of screen time), strongly urges Achilles to eschew a nice, pleasant existence with a wife, kids and Sunday mornings spent reading with the Athens Times and face almost certain death for no good reason other than “The world will remember your name. ”
Troy is the kind of movie where the Hawks mightily outweigh the Doves. “Peace is for women and the weak, ” scowls the world domination-crazed Agamemnon (played with scenery-chewing gluttony by Brian Cox). “Empires are forged by war! ”
The screenplay is littered with moments of pure, unfettered silliness.
Early on, the testosterone-emitting Achilles confronts a brooding (and unarmed) Hector in a desecrated temple and lets the Trojan prince go. “It’s too early in the day for killing princes, ” he says with the finesse of sledgehammer.
Later, after Hector has mistakenly killed Achilles’ young cousin in the heat of battle, both armies abruptly halt their fighting. “That’s enough for one day, ” sighs Hector to the Greek commander, who sighs back in agreement. Hey, guys? This is war here, not a game of checkers in the park.
The movie concocts a formula that is as repetitive as it is tedious: Battle. Long talky lull. Funeral pyre. Battle. Long talky lull. Funeral pyre. Battle. Long talky lull. Funeral pyre. I changed my seat in the theatre three times just to shake off the ennui.
Much of the time, Petersen interrupts his set-piece battles with ill-timed, full-frame cutaways of Priam and other Trojan royalty, as they quiver in sorrow or look on in horror over this particular loss or that. James Horner’s truly awful score never quite syncs up with the action — the music during the action scenes is inappropriately placid and better suited to a commercial for Summer’s Eve. During the big one-on-one between Hector and Achilles, Horner fires up the bongos, calling to mind a similar sequence from the original Star Trek.
Bana and O’Toole are the only two actors involved who understand the words classy and restraint. Pitt is all prettied up — he’s a bronzed, golden-haired hunk — but this is hardly his finest moment. His cameo on Friends had more depth. As for Bloom, he was far more impressive (not to mention cuter) as a) an elf and b) a pirate than he is c) a sniveling, skirt-chasing Trojan prince who can’t keep it in his skirt.
Those interested in Troy purely for its male eye candy won’t be disappointed. Bana, Bloom and Pitt are shirtless whenever possible, baring their ballooning chests and flexing their big muscles through tender, ultra-moisturized skin. At any moment, you expect them to hold up a canister of Secret and chirp, “Strong enough for a manÂ… ” Thankfully, O’Toole, Cox and Brendan Gleeson (as the King who wants Helen back so he can skin her alive) keep their shirts on. Still, for those of you who believe Troy is worth sitting through just to see a few glimpses of Pitt’s derriÃ¨re, consider renting a porn instead: not only do you get some Greek action worth watching, but you can fast-forward through the slow parts.