R, 163 min.
Now showing at area theaters
I started groaning from the opening seconds of the period adventure blockbuster Troy, already bored with the sweeping landscape shots and exotic ululations on the soundtrack. And I groaned several times more during the Trojan War epic: at the first glimpse of armies massing on a battlefield (practically begging the audience to play spot-the-CGI), at Brad Pitt's ridiculous accent (a British tinge for the Greek Achilles?), and at the many, many scenes of people standing around waiting for something to happen. (Were there Homeric scholars on set making sure that no one cut any of the half-dozen "please, darling, don't go" speeches?)
Troy is actually a pretty satisfying, Saturday-matinee kind of picture. The cluttered battlefields frequently give way to gripping mano-a-mano clashes, staged by director Wolfgang Petersen with more aggressive zooms and pans than this kind of lumbering history play usually attempts. And despite Pitt's weird vocalizing, his brooding, pissy Achilles carries the movie a lot of the timehe may be the most sensitive badass in movie history.
The rest of the cast is also fairly strong. Peter O'Toole's Trojan king Priam holds memories of past valor behind his fading eyes, while his sons Hector (a sturdy Eric Bana) and Paris (a suitably weak Orlando Bloom) try to clean up a mess that threatens to destroy their city. Brendan Gleeson gives a stung growl to the aggrieved Greek king Menelaus, whose wife Helen has been stolen by Paris; and Bryan Cox gleefully chews the scenery as Menelaus' brother Agamemnon, who uses Paris' treachery as an excuse to rally the Greeks and seize a city-state he's always coveted. Cox, like Pitt, ignores somber action-movie propriety and spits sass into every line of dialogue.
Screenwriter David Benioff (or perhaps one of the uncredited rewriters) goes overboard in trying to make Troy a study of how ancient heroes fought for immortal glory. Still, the hand of the man who wrote 25th Hour is evident in all the discussion of absent gods. In a cruel syllogism, the Trojans' faith almost always leads to them being summarily slaughtered.
Even more compelling, given our current geopolitical situation, is all the talk in Troy about how to wage war properly and honorably. In a story where filmmakers with an agenda could easily choose sides and make a statementthe Greeks for those who believe every minor attack deserves major retribution, and the Trojans for those who believe that sometimes bullies have it comingPetersen and Benioff scatter villains on both sides and place their allegiance with those who act nobly and properly. For all its generic faults, it's hard not to have some affection for a summer blockbuster whose ultimate message is, "Don't be an asshole."
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