Saturday, March 29, 2014


"Das Boot" director Wolfgang Petersen shuns the gods in "Troy" (*** OUT OF ****) but doesn't suffer the consequences. This loose, long-winded adaptation of Homer's spear-and-sandal classic "The Iliad," about the legendary siege of the eponymous city and the hard-bodied combatants, who clashed swords, conjures up not only spectacle on a grand scale but also delivers charisma on an even grander scale. Traditionally, when we think about the Trojan War, we think about the adulterous Helen, who started it all when she cuckolded husband Menelaus and skipped Sparta with youthful Paris. After all, Helen's claim to fame rests on her comely features that reportedly launched a thousand ships. On the other hand, this revisionist, 21st century rendition spends more time admiring the abs of its heroes rather than the eyes of its anorectic heroines. Consequently, "Troy" ogles Achilles more often than Helen, and for good reason, too. Not since John Travolta buffed up for Sylvester Stallone’s abysmal "Staying Alive" (1983) has an actor so conscientiously dedicated himself to a muscular makeover.  Reportedly, Pitt spent six months building up his body.  Ironically, he pulled his Achilles tendon during the production.  Meanwhile, the producers make sure Brad bares his body early and often to display his magnificently sculptured biceps and six-pack.  This is not Brad Pitt as we are accustomed to seeing him.  He has a signature lunge as Achilles when he delivers the death blow with his sword that he repeats at intervals against his opponents that is visually striking.


Meanwhile, Petersen and scenarist David Benioff omits scenes of the Greek deities who would have divulged too much and ruined the suspense and tension in this mortals-only account of events.  A blond, bluffed-up Brad Pitt portrays Achilles as a pugnacious prima Donna.  He thumbs his nose at Agamemnon and lives for the moment in combat when he can attain his dream of immortality.  Compelling plotting and memorable dialogue bolsters this lengthy, but satisfying 162-minute, epic rehash of history's most celebrated ancient war. Nevertheless, despite its marathon length, skillful storytelling, and its secular, down-to-earth, reimagination of Homer, "Troy" has more going for it than the sum of its shortcomings. An impressive cast, including screen veterans Peter O'Toole and Brian Cox, Nigel Phelp's astonishing production values, the seamless integration of computer-generated effects with live action footage and several superbly staged combat sequences that have no equal in ancient actioneers offset whatever flaws in this $175-million plus, English language extravaganza.

The larger-than-life action opens in 1200 B.C.  King Agamemnon (Brian Cox of "The Glimmer Man") leads his army out to confront Triopas (Julian Glover of "For Your Eyes Only") on the field of battle. Agamemnon is an avaricious, warmongering opportunist. Triopas suggests Agamemnon and he avoid needless bloodshed by pitting the best of their best against each other.  This amusing prologue shows the womanizing Achilles as the greatest warrior of his day, a "Rambo" of antiquity, who can whip any adversary.  In his first, on-screen scrap, Achilles takes down an imposing Goliath-like opponent who makes our protagonist appear puny by comparison.  Size counts for little, because the smaller Achilles displays his agility in slaying his adversary with a single blow!  "Perfect Storm" director Petersen choreographs the action sequences with considerable flair and imagination, thanks in part to veteran James Bond stuntman Simon Crane.

The hand-to-hand combat appears not only believable, but also the actors wield their swords, shields, and spears with credible ferocity.  Later battles qualify as more than just aimless mob warfare with splendidly clad extras roughhousing it with their counterparts. Watch the way Achilles and his mercenaries cover themselves with their shields to repulse wave after wave of arrows.  The participants wield their armor with as much savvy as their swords and spears.  Meantime, the dialogue scenes that intersperse the gritty action are just as memorable. The theme of immortality pervades this fine example of an ancient world epic.  Ultimately, anytime Hollywood handles ancient history, the dialogue possesses an ersatz quality, but the lines here are insightful.

Indeed, Homer’s classic “The Illiad” inspired this illicit romance that prompted this war. Anybody who survived the 1960s should remember the classic Greek sagas such as "Jason and the Argonauts" (1963) and "Clash of the Titans" (1981). Every action on Earth generated corresponding action in the realm of the gods with Zeus lording it over his supernatural peers. "Troy" ignores the gods but doesn’t rank as a lesser effort for this neglect, though one can imagine how many more millions of dollars and minutes of time inclusion of the gods might have required. Generally, scenes with the gods serve to clarify terrestrial conflicts and clue us in on what we might have missed on Earth.

One of the shortcomings lies in the source material and its lack of explanation.  For example, audiences not familiar with Trojan mythology might have a difficult time understanding why an arrow through Achilles' ankle would prove so fatal. Petersen and Benioff scale down the action to mortals-only, and "Troy" looks as close to what could have happened if it happened. The beachhead landing (lensed in Mexico) emerges as the ancient equivalent of the sixth of June, D-Day landings in Normandy in World War II, with an armada of oar-driven ships crowding the sea from horizon to horizon.  You finally get to see the famous Trojan horse in the final 45 minutes.  Ace lenser Roger Pratt gives "Troy" a big-screen magnitude with his awesome long shots of virtually anything beyond arm's reach. When the opposing armies march against each other on the level lands in front of Troy, the spectacle is breathtaking in its scale.

Although Petersen and Benioff have tampered with the venerable plot, the action is worth-watching from fade-in to fade-out.  Achilles emerges as more of a villain, but Hector (Eric Bana of "Hulk") looks like a wrongly slain hero. Paris and Helen emerge as the least effectual lovers in a long time.  Naturally,  Orlando Bloom wields a bow and arrow.  Altogether, "Troy" ranks as a joy to watch!