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Arts & Cultures/ Reel Dealz
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by:Edwardo Jackson

MOVIE BIASES: My movie event of the summer. Pre-sold.
MAJOR PLAYERS: Brad Pitt (Ocean's Eleven), Eric Bana (The Hulk), Orlando Bloom (Pirates of the Caribbean), Brian Cox (X2), based on the epic poem by Homer (The Iliad), writer David Benioff (25th Hour), and director Wolfgang Petersen (The Perfect Storm)

"Is there no one else? Is there NO ONE ELSE?" screams Achilles in the "Troy" trailers. Well, for me, there sure ain't. My movie event of the summer has come in the second week of May, an amalgam of actor, writer, and director star power awash in sword and sandal period epic. Toss in the time-tested plots and characters of Greek poet Homer's "The Iliad," and I was all set for a "Gladiator"-esque time at the cinema, the one movie to which "Troy" will invariably be compared. To answer a Maximus-like question, we were entertained – but nothing more, nothing less.

After years of fighting circa 1200 B.C., a fragile peace is brokered between Sparta and Troy, with the Trojan princes Hector (Bana) and Paris (Bloom) in Sparta to seal the deal. However when loverboy Paris spirits away the all-too willing wife of the Spartan king Menelaus (Brandon Gleeson) Helen (Diane Kruger), in broad daylight no less, big brother/empire-building gloryhound King Agamemnon (Cox) sees an opportunity to finally topple the vaunted walled city of Troy. In order to do so, Agamemnon unfortunately needs the singular talents of Achilles (Pitt), an absurdly cocky mercenary leader who "was born to end lives." As obsessed with his own legend as Agamemnon is with stealing credit for it, Achilles would rather spear the king than fight for him, but does so anyway, seeking immortality, destiny, and a showdown with legendary Trojan warrior Hector.

And that is just the beginning. Sure, the source material offers a cornucopia of complex plots and characters but credit esteemed novelist David Benioff, a graduate of the prestigious UC Irvine MFA Writing Program, for crystallizing it all, albeit at the expense of some literary purists. Before the first arrow is shot in defense of Troy, the main players and their complicated relationships are clearly defined with swift, fluid simplicity - and a cheeky sense of humor. To wit: when two armies are to decide their fates through a battle of each side's strongest man, Achilles, reluctantly representing Agamemnon's army, is nowhere to be found on the frontlines, buried under a bevy of naked women in his tent, sleeping off a hangover. The script has an easy mastery of the elevated language normally associated with ancient times, jam-packed with wry one-liners like "It is no insult to say a dead man is dead." Or important one-liners: "Even enemies can show respect" (Al-Qaeda, US Army, are you listening?).

Petersen does his best to keep up. Not really known as a visually stunning director, Petersen is clearly enamored with his sets, offering the broad vistas, distant horizons, and sweeping aerials over Troy that a period epic of this scale ($175 million worth) demands. His fight scenes are appropriately thrilling but not distinctive. Save the great, balletic showdown between Hector and Achilles, I wanted to see something I hadn't seen before, a la "Gladiator." Like that movie, the costumes, makeup, set design, special effects, and art direction are all pitch perfect in "Troy." Unlike that movie, what's missing from "Troy" is a good, solid musical score. A movie this big, this ambitious deserves – nay, begs for a great musical score, one that inflates lesser scenes and elevates better ones, unifying the film as a whole. Oddly enough, the normally reliable James Horner (Titanic, Mask of Zorro) seems asleep at the wheel, not providing us with a signature theme like "Gladiator" did that's so popular it's played for TV sports highlights.

It's a good thing this is a character-based action epic with solid actors all around. Bana is exceptional as the three-dimensional Hector, a leader of men, a husband and father, an obligingly devoted brother and son. Bloom's Paris is so weak and cowardly as to be funny. In fact, Bloom is too good, with his long curly hair and slim, boyish features turning Paris' romantically naïve self into a Trojan French poodle that nearly takes us out of every scene in which he opens his silly, idealistic little mouth. Diane Kruger is mere window dressing, and not THAT attractive at that for playing a woman whose face was to have "launched a thousand ships." Now if you had Sanaa Lathan as Helen of Troy, her mug would launch TWO thousand… Brian Cox is in gleeful anti-Muslim mode, hamming it up as the unrepentantly greedy and political Agamemnon ("History remembers kings, not soldiers"). And if there is a lesser known bound to break out in this movie it'll probably be Rose Byrne as vestal virgin Briseis, a cousin to Hector who's captured by Achilles but ends up warming to the swift runner, as he does to her.

Ah, yes – Brad Pitt's Achilles. Taking home a rumored $17 million paycheck, Pitt is, in proportion to the rest of this movie's budget, worth every penny. Finally, Pitt lives up to his movie star persona and don't-hate-me-because-I'm-beautiful iconic good looks that he has spent a career subversively skirting by trying to look as dirty and hairy as possible. Doing a complete 180, Pitt finds himself embroiled in a full-fledged, indiscreet, two-way love affair with the camera, with both participants making love to each other like teenagers in the back seat of a jeep. It's not enough that Pitt's Achilles is an ancient Greek Barry Bonds, able to fell a kingdom with one swift swipe of his sword. Or that Achilles' impossibly arrogant yet wildly charismatic persona is infused with dry, comic sarcasm by Pitt. Petersen and company have Pitt so well positioned, made up, and lit as to make him seem godlike. Only Achilles, the greatest warrior alive, can dismiss a great warrior like Hector with a suck of his teeth. Yet just when you think Achilles is all brass and bluster, he, not too unlike the effete Paris, can be tamed by the soothing charms of a woman. It's also no small irony that Pitt's fierce rebellion of traditional movie stardom is funneled into a character whose sole existence relies upon the constant perpetuation of his own legacy. Through the combined force of the script, Pitt's talent, and Petersen's determination to ramp up the star power of said talent, you end up believing in that love affair, too.

But it's not enough. This movie will print money – and it should. Although long (it could lose one or two solemn warrior burning burial scenes), it is relentlessly entertaining. Lacking a potent musical score, seminal lines to be burned into our collective cinematic consciousness, and a definitive directorial style, "Troy" is great fun, but still not great. And that's its Achilles' heel.

It's pretty hot – go give it a shot.

Like what you read? Agree/disagree with The Reel Deal? Think he's talkin' out his...HUSH YO' MOUF! (I'm only talkin' about The Reel Deal!) Email him at ReelReviewz@aol.com!

Edwardo Jackson is the author of the novels EVER AFTER and NEVA HAFTA, (Villard/Random House), a writer for UrbanFilmPremiere.com, and an LA-based screenwriter. Visit his website at www.edwardojackson.com

© 2004, Edwardo Jackson

© Copyright 2004

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