Party on, Hector. Party on, Achilles


Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen

Screenplay by David Benioff, based on the poem The Iliad by Homer

Starring Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, Eric Bana

Rated “R”; 164 min.

3 out of 5 stars

Wolfgang Petersen’s $200 million epic “Troy” shows some striking similarities to nearly universal college clichs. In both college and the film, one wouldn’t be hard-pressed to find Greeks everywhere; the best parties, rivalries, and young/hot crowd around; and a sustained sense of academia despite everyone using Cliff’s Notes to write their Iliad papers in Ancient Lit.

Not that this doesn’t make the tuition bill for this three-hour intensive in summer blockbusters worth it – “Troy” looks great, doesn’t draw itself out and is a generally good time. Problem is, like the common college experience of many, “Troy” doesn’t bother to start using its richest resources and greatest strengths until the final act. By then, it’s usually too little too late to graduate with honors.

The plot stays close enough to the general idea behind The Iliad. The Greeks are defeating and uniting every army in the land under them; the kingdom of Troy loses its membership when its youngest prince, Paris, decides to take Greek leader King Menelaus’ wife, Helen, on a permanent date back home. The Greeks take issue with this, declare war on Troy, and the bloody party begins. And like any happening party, it’s safe to assume that almost everyone is totally wasted.

In the Trojan corner, Orlando Bloom and Eric Bana play brothers Paris and Hector and watch with wide, pretty eyes as their country/beachfront property comes under attack from 4000 computer-generated ships filled with thousands of belligerent, seemingly confused extras. Bloom, whose film rsum includes battling ogres and pirates, comes off overwhelmed here as a dense, often understated Paris. It doesn’t help that his romance with Helen (played surprisingly well by stunning newcomer Diane Kruger) doesn’t seem worth all the ruckus, as it feels lukewarm at best.

Luckily for the Trojans, somebody on their side knows a thing or two about that whole “war” thing. Bana as Hector gives the only sober performance in the film as he straight-faces tawdry movements of an over-the-top, self-obsessed screenplay. Bana does well to translate much of the film’s thick egotism into relatable, human emotion. Chaperoning the Trojans is a seasoned, although sometimes distant, Peter O’Toole as King Priam, who helps the most dramatic scenes in the film hit home.

Then again, who wants to be sober when the Greeks come to get down? Not trained thespian Brian Cox, that’s for sure. Cox, as Agamemnon (brother and hype-man for Menelaus), continually seems to be having the best time out of anyone on screen. Throughout the film, it’s Cox who constantly transcends and taps into “Troy’s” closet machismo, themes, motivations and probably the keg, too. Although he gives the film’s greatest performance, nobody will be looking at the old, fat, sauced guy stirring up the chaos. Instead, all eyes are on the greatest, blondest, most bronzed warrior to ever pledge Greek-Brad Pitt’s Achilles. Pitt’s character is the star of the show, and the film makes no reservations about it.

From slow-motion battle cries to gusts of wind blowing his bright blonde locks wherever he fights, everyone, especially Pitt, knows Achilles is too cold (How cold? Ice cold!) to be hanging around all these grizzly roughnecks. For the most fierce and glorious warrior to have ever lived, Achilles comes off as too vogue, loud bark, less bite-dare we say diva?

Much of “Troy’s” overexaggerated gusto comes from Pitt, who wastes the edge he’s developed in other roles with an incredibly obvious, unrestrained, big-man-on-campus swagger.

For a movie so concerned with its characters’ reasons for going to war (love, power, glory, women) that it beats the audience over the head with repeated monologues about them, director Peterson has no problem totally dropping the plot for lengthy battle scenes. Like most other war epics, these fights don’t leave much to the imagination, often bringing the audience right into the middle of all the gory, glorious carnage.

Sometimes the battles become spontaneous and blurred, but they usually manage to come together as the central excitement and strength of Troy. Granted, it takes three or four of these scenes to do it, but the battles often help focus the film into being what it needs to be: less feel, more fun.

The third act is when the party on Troy Avenue finally picks up the pace: the fight between Hector and Achilles brings about the kind of tension that hasn’t been felt since before light sabers went soft, and the breakthrough star of the film, a 40-foot Trojan Horse, acts as a surefire designated driver to get everyone home safely in the morning.

Maybe if director Peterson didn’t try so hard to convince everyone of his stellar ambitions (i.e., delusions of grandeur) in making a war epic, a moralizing ensemble flick, a love story, an adventure film and a special effects bonanza, he would have been able to spend more time focusing on just one of those goals and “Troy” would have been more complete. You can’t blame him for trying, though. Peterson’s “Gods? Schmods!” take on Greek mythology is just the kind of party summer semester at the movies guarantees. When all is said and done, “Troy” is a good time and not much else. Who cares if he doesn’t graduate with honors?

Besides, screw that Oscar guy. I didn’t see him at the party.

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