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This thing is giving me a frickin' headache.

© 2004, Warner Bros.
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Troy Spotlight Page
When Paris (Orlando Bloom, still not challenged as an actor yet), the prince of Troy, falls for Helen, queen of Sparta (a bland Diane Kruger), the young prince makes a disastrous decision and steals Helen away from her brutish husband, Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), in the middle of the night. Enraged, Menelaus goes to his warmongering brother, Agamemnon (Brian Cox, who apparently has skipped lunch, and resorts to eating the screen in a thrilling performance), to request help in bringing Helen back. Sending 1,000 ships across the sea to the remote coastal empire of Troy, Agamemnon prepares for a colossal battle to take the treasured city away from its king (Peter O'Toole, bringing ideal regality to the production), and its finest soldier, Hector (Eric Bana). But to guarantee victory, Agamemnon needs the help of Achilles (Brad Pitt), the fiercest warrior in the land, and one who fights only for the glory of his name, not for the spoils of war.

Loosely based on Homer's "The Iliad," "Troy" (IMDb listing) fusses enough with the original source material to infuriate the purists, but manages to find a fresh take on this oft-told tale with a little help from heaping gobs of money and a sublime cast. The unmistakable template for the film is Ridley Scott's 2000 blockbuster, "Gladiator," which is evident in the size of the production and the musical score (by James Horner), which works well, but tries too hard to remind audiences of the Russell Crowe film. "Troy" harkens back to an earlier era of cinema, when historical epics gradually rolled out narrative and mounted their visuals lavishly. "Troy" reminded me less of Scott's heavily tinkered with visual scheme, and more of the gigantic, exceedingly gorgeous productions found in Joseph Mankiewicz's "Cleopatra" or William Wyler's "Ben-Hur," bringing back genuine widescreen awe to 2004.

Director Wolfgang Petersen ("Das Boot," "In the Line of Fire") doesn't have the luxury of working with miles of sets and thousands of extras, but armed with a computer, the filmmaker is very convincing in designing the fall of Troy. The film is long (165 minutes), and moves well, but it's paced with a repetitive tempo, which could be disarming to those expecting a slap fight around every corner. The battles back in 1100 B.C. were vicious, but also oddly respectful, breaking before nightfall for rest and mourning. "Troy" is basically made up of identical combat sequences, with Petersen able to make them all count in very distinct ways. The look and sweep of the battle sequences have been cribbed big time from "The Lord of the Rings," but Petersen takes the Hobbit epic one further and boldly stages the action in broad daylight, which is typically Kryptonite to any form of CGI. The special effects are shockingly seamless, and easily convince the eye that 10,000 troops are waiting to do battle on the scorching beaches of Troy. Very impressive. Petersen keeps the juices flowing by continually stoking the dramatic fires (from a wonderful script by David Benioff, "25th Hour"), and staging intermittent, intense one-on-one battles to keep the story as intimate as something this extensive can possibly get.

While "Troy" represents dependable, structured filmmaking, the curiosity of Brad Pitt's performance as Achilles is where the holes start to poke through this durable fabric. Pitt has always been a unique actor who just needs the perfect project to reveal his considerable talents ("Fight Club," "12 Monkeys"). Always up for something different, Pitt faces the greatest acting challenge of his career in "Troy." Cursed with a thick tongue, Pitt has trouble with Achilles' tricky and lengthy dialog, but he makes up for it with an inspired, passionate performance as the warrior of warriors. He's miscast in the role -- that cannot be denied -- but he makes the ill-fitting performance (in which Achilles has been awkwardly pushed forward to be the main character of the film) work when it counts (battles, nudity), which helps him coast through when scenes don't suit his type of acting (any type of speech). In a landscape brimming with fantastic performances, Pitt's is the weakest, but not quite the disaster it could've been.

"Troy" rolls through the material's iconic sequences with grandeur and suspense, leading up to the awesome sight of the mysterious Trojan horse in the film's final act, which climaxes the picture on a spectacular and epic note. Petersen isn't exactly dealing with the freshest material around, but he certainly does the intricate story justice, guiding it effectively and respectfully.

Filmfodder Grade: B+

Sure, it's historically flimsy, but who cares? Buy a Troy poster.

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