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cast: Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Peter O'Toole, Brian Cox, and Diane Kruger

director: Wolfgang Petersen

163 minutes (15) 2004 Warner VHS retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Amy Harlib
German-born director Wolfgang Petersen, famous for hard-hitting contemporary dramas Das Boot (1981), The Perfect Storm (2000), and lots more, turns to epic, classical material for his most recent cinematic endeavour - Troy 'inspired by' Homer's The Iliad. Archaeological culture/vulture purists will no doubt be outraged by scripter David Benioff's Homeric hash and by the very creative, anachronistic mishmash of set designs and decorations that bear no resemblance to scholarly discoveries. Audiences that expect no more of Troy than dazzling, blockbuster entertainment on its own terms will be happily rewarded.

In the story, set 3,000 years ago, the city-states of Greece get conquered and brought under the unifying rule of King Agamemnon (Brian Cox) aided a great deal by his greatest champion Achilles (a very buffed Brad Pitt) whose love of women almost equals his passion for the glory of battle although he resists the overbearing arrogance and hypocrisy of his monarch. Still, Achilles can't resist showing off in a written-for-the-film opening scene in which the sword-wielding hero bests a much larger, heretofore unbeaten opponent Boagrius (Nathan Jones) in one flashy move.

Agamemnon's brother Menelaus (Brendan Gleason), ruling in Sparta, agrees to a peace treaty with Trojan princes Hector (Eric Bana) and Paris (Orlando Bloom), negotiating on behalf of their aging father King Priam (Peter O'Toole). Unbeknownst to the strictly business Hector, younger Paris becomes smitten, engaging in a clandestine affair, with the mutually enamoured Helen (Diane Kruger), Menelaus' gorgeous young consort. The recklessly unthinking Paris convinces Helen to stow away on his people's ship just before they set sail homeward for Troy. Her presence soon discovered, the outraged Hector desires to turn back and apologetically return Helen, but what's done is done. The cuckolded, infuriated Menelaus cannot be dissuaded from a vengeful war no matter what and his ambitious brother Agamemnon gladly uses this incident to rationalise his desire for attacking the rich and flourishing Troy.

Menelaus and Agamemnon combine resources; assembling 50,000 men including more archers than would have existed in actuality and an unprecedented, huge armada of 1,000 ships (of a design that won't exist until 800 years in the future). They invade Troy, heretofore undefeated thanks to its thick walls (a Hollywood replacement for the not nearly as dramatic historically accurate ditch) and fierce defenders. Agamemnon, needing Achilles more than ever for this expedition and for success, to persuade the famous fighter, sends Odysseus (Sean Bean who deserved a much larger role) to convince his good friend the hero to join the forces. After witnessing an excellent practice bout in which Achilles and his cousin Patroclus (Garett Hedlund) work out with wooden swords, Odysseus succeeds in recruiting Achilles by appealing to his desire for immortality - for his name and mighty deeds to be remembered forever.

At Troy, in addition to lots of large-scale bloody battle scenes, the story augments Paris and Helen's romance with an intriguing liaison between Achilles and the captive, feisty Trojan priestess and niece of King Priam, Briseis (Rose Byrne) whose pluck wins him over and wins her eventual freedom. More love interest lies in the relationship between Hector and his protective wife Andromache (Saffron Burrows) and in their mutual parental concern for their infant son. King Priam's caring for his people and his sons adds emotional heft as does Hector's and Paris' closeness, especially in a stunning and significant encounter with the invading armies' rulers. This pivotal event leads to the superb climactic duel between Hector and Achilles where the use of shields, spears and swords rivals in skill anything from Hong Kong.

Classics-savvy viewers will instantly notice that this version of Homer according to Petersen approaches the tale as a straight historical epic, excising all the original's abundant supernatural references to the gods interfering in the activities of mortals. Without the divine manipulations, the plot gets altered greatly: events encompassing 10 years get compressed into mere weeks and lapses in logic can't be easily explained away. Still, the performers do fine jobs with their parts and look wonderful in their gorgeous costumes and hairstyles, the armour and weaponry particularly eye-catching despite anachronisms. The worst period gaffes appear in the architecture, with motifs and pillars wildly out of place and time, ditto for the prolific statuary, some quite fanciful indeed. A further mistake involved the placing of coins on the eyes of the dead - coins would not be invented until 500 years later!

The attacks on Troy, and of course the famous giant wooden horse (actually a much later interpolation from Virgil's Aeneid), plus crucial fight scenes - all prove exciting to watch with the lead players very appealing in their roles. Ignoring historical inaccuracies - the sets, clothing and the ships look terrific on screen while the lush score splendidly blends a modern orchestra with evocative choral passages and folk instruments. Despite its flaws, Petersen's Troy delivers satisfying, character-driven emotions, opulently detailed visuals, and ancient warfare and martial arts action that, while making a hash out of Homer, serves up a tasty dish nevertheless. While this film may not be remembered down through the ages like its inspirational material, Troy offers some glorious entertainment that hopefully will get people curious enough to read Homer's eternally classic original. Now that would be a really glorious thing! Those taking the time to investigate sources will be astounded by how far the story continues past the destruction of Troy.

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