Monday, May 24, 2004

Movie: Troy (2004)

Can you have a serviceable epic? That doesn’t sound right, saying that a movie is adequately heroic. But the description suits director Wolfgang Petersen’s take on THE ILIAD to a T. TROY gets the job done and punches out at five. It won’t be fabled in song and story, and no garlands will be wreathed ‘round its head come Oscar time. But it does what’s asked of it in briskly entertaining fashion.

Liberties have been taken with the plot, as well they should be. It does seem odd that Homer can be streamlined and simplified but Harry Potter can’t be because, well, dude, that’s a classic. Screenwriter David Benioff has abandoned the gods, stripping away the mythic aspects of the tale and reducing it to a political struggle. One with scads of action, which Petersen and cinematographer Roger Pratt deliver with brio. Large-scale battle sequences alternate with intimate mano a mano duels; both types of scenes are cleanly shot, the tactics readily understandable. Petersen uses CGI to fill out the frame but not dominate it. The only misstep is the use of music. James Horner’s score is obvious throughout, except for one moment when it seemed to veer into the theme from MAHOGANY.

Denied his divine provenance, the movie’s Achilles comes across as a petulant jerk obsessed with fame. He doesn’t need a war so much as he needs Pat Kingsley to field his media requests. The casting of Brad Pitt works in this context; the part needs not just a star but a golden boy. Pitt’s accent visits more countries than the crew did, but he wisely keeps his dialogue to a minimum and his performance engagingly physical.

The other actors don’t fare as well as each is given a single note to play. Eric Bana’s Hector is the reluctant warrior, while Brendan Gleeson is wounded male vanity personified. The scenes featuring Orlando Bloom and Diane Kruger as Paris and Helen are like clips from the toga party episode of THE O.C. spliced in to cotton to the Fox demographic. Brian Cox emerges not only unscathed but triumphant. Most actors, even those with a classical background, have a tendency to indicate in costume drama, to signify that their characters are living in historic times in every sense of the phrase. Cox can’t be bothered with that. His Agamemnon exists gloriously in the moment, and his scenes have a ferocious, almost satiric crackle. He plays the king like a glory hound CEO who’s annoyed that he can’t fire that smartass Achilles because he’s the current sales leader.

Plus the horse looks very, very cool.

Miscellaneous: Links

David Thomson offers up a list of alternative movie gods. I can certainly get behind The Church of Claude Rains as Captain Renault. Scary thought of the day: the science in THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW comes courtesy of alien abductee Whitley Streiber and paranormal expert Art Bell.