Release Date:  May 14, 2004
Rating:  R (for graphic violence and some sexuality/nudity.)
Genre:  Action/Drama/War/Adventure
Run Time: 163 minutes
Director:  Wolfgang Petersen
Actors:  Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Brian Cox, Brendan Gleeson, Diane Kruger, Sean Bean, Julie Christie, Peter O’Toole

Wolfgang Petersen, acclaimed director of “The Perfect Storm,” “Air Force One” and “Das Boot,” brings the anticipated “Troy” to the screen, leaving us to wonder if all really is fair in love and war.

During a banquet celebrating a peace treaty with King Menelaus of Sparta (Brendan Gleeson), Prince Paris of Troy (Orlando Bloom) secretly makes love to the king’s wife. It is not the first time; Paris is a serial seducer. His brother, Hector (Eric Bana), notices the affair but says nothing. Hector is nevertheless surprised when, during their return trip to Troy, Paris reveals Helen (Diane Kruger) hiding aboard ship. Hector wants to return to Sparta, but reluctantly continues home, where their father, King Priam (Peter O’Toole) allows Helen to stay. If they force her to return, Priam insists, Paris will be executed.

Hungry for Troy after conquering all of Greece’s other city states, King Agamemnon (Brian Cox) uses the opportunity to avenge his brother, Menelaus, and attack the coveted city. They set sail with 50,000 men and their greatest warrior, Achilles (Brad Pitt). But Achilles fights for himself, not the king. So after a dispute between the two, Achilles refuses to fight.. Without him, Agamemnon fails to conquer Troy’s towering walls.

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"Troy"

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Hector advises patience, but Priam is flush with victory. Persuaded by prophecies from his priests, he decides to attack. During the fight, Hector mistakenly kills Achilles’ cousin, spurring the warrior to a deadly showdown. During the 12-day mourning period, King Odysseus (Sean Bean) plots to leave a gigantic horse on the beach filled with soldiers. Hopefully, the curious Trojans will take it into the city. The trap is set.

Based on Homer’s epic Greek poem, “The Iliad,” “Troy” is a beautiful film full of special effects, dramatic war scenes (including the requisite violence, gory at times) and enough testosterone to power Sparta’s ships. Men will love it. Women will be drawn by the history, the costumes and the romance – if not Pitt’s buff body, which is seen naked from above the groin and the side in several scenes. He sleeps nude next to two naked women, with an implied ménage-á-trois. He also beds a young girl hours after meeting her. It’s sexy, to say the least – and as nude as you can get without showing genitalia.

The film fails to convey the drama and excitement of “Gladiator” and feels more like the dated “Ben Hur.” The Trojan horse is the climax, but too little screen time is devoted to it and it is placed too close to the end of the film. It also abbreviates a ten-year war into two weeks, telescoping much of the action. Not all the details match the original work, so students of the book will be disappointed.

The biggest flaw is the characterization, which remains underdeveloped. Helen, as “the face that launched a thousand ships,” has few lines and wafts along like a daisy in the wind. And what does she see in Paris – a morally bankrupt, unskilled soldier who speaks with bravado, then runs from his opponent? Is the couple in love? We see nothing of that relationship outside the bedroom.

Likewise, we never really see into Achilles’ heart. Pitt handles the role well (except for his scene opposite O’Toole, his only weak moment). His mother (Julie Christie) encourages Achilles to fight to make a name for himself, while knowing (rather mysteriously) that he will die. But what else makes this man so obsessed with fighting? The character we understand most is Hector, a faithful husband and father and a brave military leader. Bana does a great job with the part, despite being hampered by melodramatic dialogue (“Beloved cousin, you have grown beautiful in many moons”), a problem throughout the film. O’Toole is excellent, as are Cox, Gleason and Bean (in his first role since “Lord of the Rings”).

Because we don’t connect with the characters, it’s hard to feel sad when they are destroyed. The film’s antiwar message, which proclaims how vain and arrogant it is, further distances us from them – because we are not supposed to like men who like war. We come away feeling disgust for these leaders, despite their excellent military skills. The film also mocks faith in anything other than human strength, with characters who nonchalantly talk about protection from “the gods,” just before dying, and illogical “signs” from the priests. Christians will see a distinct difference between the inanimate, gold-plated Greek gods and the personal, powerful Jesus Christ. And the comparison between King Priam, who sacrificed thousands to save his son, and our heavenly King, who sacrificed his son to save the world, is dramatic.

Neither Achilles’ sexual proclivities nor Paris’ sins are dealt with on a moral level. They are portrayed as reckless but understandable. Moreover, Paris’ family condones his actions with their passivity. It’s an excellent illustration about the true cost of adultery – what it does to individuals, families and communities.

Ultimately, “Troy” offers lots to think about. It should remind us that we’re all at war, and how we fight our battles matters most of all.