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Dustin Putman

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Troy (2004)
2 Stars

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Cast: Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Diane Kruger, Peter O'Toole, Brian Cox, Rose Byrne, Saffron Burrows, Brendan Gleeson, Sean Bean, Garrett Hedlund, Mark Lewis Jones, Julie Christie, Tyler Mane, Nigel Terry, Trevor Eve, Julian Glover, James Cosmo, Jacob Smith
2004 – 163 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for graphic violence and sexuality/nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, May 15, 2004.

Whether it be the fault of the screenplay or miscast actors, the admirably lofty intentions of "Troy" to be a large-scale historical epic got lost somewhere along its journey to the screen. The $150-million budget is, for the most part, widely apparent on the screen. From scenes in which a thousand ships set sale across the ocean to the technically impressive, engulfing battle sequences between seemingly hundred of thousands of warriors, there is no doubt that this is a handsomely mounted motion picture. What "Troy" has in visual spectacle, however, it lacks in depth and emotion. All of the pretty shots in the world can't make up for the film's completely hollow core.

Upon a peace offering made between at-odds Greek cities Sparta and Troy, Helen of Sparta (Diane Kruger) falls in love with Paris of Troy (Orlando Bloom) and escapes back to Troy with he and his elder brother, Hector (Eric Bana), leaving her mismatched husband, Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), in the dust. This single action of Helen, said to be the most beautiful woman in the world, and Paris, leads to an uprising in Sparta. With the help of brother Agamemnon (Brian Cox) and warrior hero Achilles (Brad Pitt) willing to do his bidding, Menelaus sends his thousands of troops to Troy to destroy the city once and for all and reclaim Helen.

Those familiar with Homer's famous ancient poem, "The Illiad" (which this film is loosely based upon), will have no trouble following the plot trajectory of "Troy." The story is pretty simple, a cut-and-dry affair that pits the Spartans against Troy in a battle waged not only because of Helen, but for what amounts to victory bragging rights. Where director Wolfgang Petersen (2000's "The Perfect Storm") and, in turn, the viewer gets confused is on which side they should be rooting for.

On Troy's side, we have Helen, who simply wanted to leave an unhappy circumstance in order to be with Paris, and the other characters met, including Paris and Hector's father, King Priam (Peter O'Toole), and Hector's beloved wife, Andromache (Saffron Burrows), are also treated with a sympathetic hand. However, fighting for Sparta is Achilles, beheld as one of the greatest warriors who ever lived. That he is played by toplining matinee idol Brad Pitt (2001's "Ocean's Eleven") and is also viewed objectively is where things get sticky, especially considering his muscles and ripped body get more play time than he does. The lack of a decided viewpoint from screenwriter David Benioff (2002's "25th Hour") nags at the viewer, leaving them indifferent to all the carnage on the screen.

It doesn't help that "Troy," at least for its first act, plays like a candidate for "Mystery Science Theater 3000." None of the three leads—Brad Pitt, Eric Bana (2003's "Hulk"), and Orlando Bloom (2003's "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl")—are plausible in their roles, appearing at all times as if they are amateurs from a low-rent dinner theater simply playing dress up. Not only do they have difficulty in embodying their parts, but they are all too aesthetically perfect, with their hair coifed and flowing and their muscles bulging amidst metal armor, to pass themselves off as people who might have lived in approximately 1250 B.C. There are times, indeed, when "Troy" seems more concerned with showing off its male cast member's naked torsos and bare backsides than actually telling a historically and emotionally resonating story. This is one instance where Brad Pitt's gorgeous looks betray him.

The movie becomes more involving in the second half, if only because the battle scenes are pleasing to look at and astonishing in their scope. There is also a wonderful scene—easily the most poignant in the film—where King Priam comes to enemy Achilles to plead for the body of his son back. Veteran actor Peter O'Toole, who has not been recently given nearly enough dramatic work to do, easily delivers the best performance, bringing distinct levels of honor, regret, and pathos to King Priam when all the characters surrounding him don't seem to have three dimensions. The climax, in which Sparta fools its opponents and finds a way to get past the walls of Troy, is arresting and primal in a way that the other fighting sequences miss the boat on. The majority of "Troy" is simply plodding.

By the end of "Troy," audiences are likely to react with indifference. What is on view diverts the viewer's attention, for the most part, but there is nobody to latch onto and care about, nor does what either side is fighting for seem worth it. Sparta merely seems to want to prove they are stronger than Troy, while Troy retaliates out of duty and for the concern of Helen. But why? Helen, as played by newcomer Diane Kruger, is a blank slate, a boring, pretty face without a personality or soul. "Troy" yearns to be an epic for the ages, something along the lines of 2000's "Gladiator," but it is more reminiscent of a cheesy Harlequin romance that just so happens to have lots of big battles and expensive effects.
© 2004 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman