May, 2003, Drama

Directed by:Wolfgang Petersen

Starring:Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Peter O'Toole, and Diane Kruger

Well, it had to happen--and Hollywood complied; given the commercial success of Gladiator and the stunning digitized special effects used in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it was only a matter of time before a major studio (Warner Brothers in this case) decided to bet the bank on a gigantic revisiting of the Greek classic Iliad. Using a cast and crew that surely outnumbered the original participants, director Wolfgang Peterson, (Air Force One, Perfect Storm) spared neither time or money in turning out a lavish spectacle that manages to impress with its production values even as unfolds like an extra-inning baseball game that even the most die-hard of fan will want to end so they can go home. 

Brad Pitt, looking more buff at age 40 than any man has a right to, (and wearing his golden locks near shoulder length) has a tough assignment as Achilles; in a script that treats its source with all the stolid reverence of a high school term paper stolen from  Cliff Notes, the guy with the vulnerable heel emerges here as a counter-culture loner, soldiering for the evil Agamemnon, (Brian Cox) yet loathing the king who's seeking to unite the strife-riven elements of Greece into a kingdom that can dominate the Aegean.

 When Paris, (Orlando Bloom) makes off with Agamemnon's sister-in-law Helen, (Diane Kruger), Achilles is cajoled by Odysseus, (Sean Bean) into joining the Greek armada sent to storm Troy. Despite the valor displayed by his father Priam, (Peter O'Toole) and his slain brother Hector, (Eric Bana) Paris dallies with Helen while the Greek siege progresses, then warns his dad not to bring the large gift horse the invaders have left behind into the city. His warnings aren’t heeded of course, which allows Odysseus and his men to emerge from the stallion’s innards and open the city gates; Troy falls--but not before Paris manages to nail Achilles' foot with an arrow and flee the devastation with his paramour, sister-in-law and nephew in tow. All this takes over 2 and 1/2 hours to present, which makes the movie seem longer than the war itself….

Petersen's a highly capable director, delivering pageantry with dazzling cinematography and vivid action; he's as capable of utilizing the huge open spaces here every bit as effectively as he did the cramped confines of a WW II submarine in his classic Das Boot--but he's burdened in this case with leaden, Masterpiece Theater-style dialogue, uttered by actors who obviously know they're really nothing more than window dressing for the battle scenes and ingenious, computer-generated sets. Only Brian Cox as the vile, scenery-chewing Agamemnon and Brendan Gleeson as Menelaus, his cuckolded brother, bring any real fire to their roles. Pitt, whose career has featured an unusual blend of pretty-boy starring roles, (Legends of the Fall, Spy Game) and intriguing bit parts, (Thelma & Louise, True Romance) has the physicality of his character down pat, but succeeds in making this legendary warrior seem more petulant than fierce. Paris and Helen are given so little time to develop their reckless, passionate love affair that it never develops the sexual energy necessary to adequately explain the devastating events which follow.

Whole forests of arrows are loosed and enough spears thrown to skewer the entire population of the European Union; since that doesn't produce an adequate attrition rate among the combatants, it's interspersed with lots of body-piercing sword-play so that those in the audience with atavistic inclinations can enjoy a rousing, period-piece bloodbath, to the accompaniment of a thunderous soundtrack as pretentious as it is annoying. (If you loved the battering your eardrums took in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, you'll want to get the C.D. of this one too.)

The verdict? For all the hype and money spent, this is second-rate Cecil B. De Mille for the post-pubescent crowd.

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