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Review: 'Troy' has guts, glory but no heart

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

Pitt
Brad Pitt plays the arrogant Achilles in "Troy."
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Brad Pitt
Wolfgang Petersen
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(CNN) -- "Troy," at a reported budget of somewhere between $170 million and $200 million, delivers a story of epic proportions, with plenty of blood and gore and highly sophisticated computer effects.

Unfortunately, even director Wolfgang Petersen ("Das Boot" 1981, "The Perfect Storm" 2000, and "Air Force One" 1997), along with screenwriter David Benioff, cannot wrestle Homer's 2,700-year-old, 15,693-line poem "The Iliad" down to the time frame of a feature-length film.

There is a lot of guts and glory here, but not a lot of heart.

At best, this is a very loose adaptation of Homer's work (it has to be), and therein lies the rub.

In the original work, the Greek and Trojan gods play major roles in the story and in the battles. In this version, the gods play no part whatsoever. So there is no golden apple from Eris, the goddess of discord, and Aphrodite does not promise Prince Paris the most beautiful woman in the world -- Helen, Queen of Sparta (German actress Diane Kruger).

There is no back story on the three major players, Achilles (Brad Pitt), Prince Hector of Troy (Eric Bana), and Prince Paris of Troy (Orlando Bloom), and therefore it's hard to identify with them in any real way.

With no central hero for the audience to identify with, "Troy" is ultimately a character-driven ensemble piece -- in which all of the characters are deeply flawed, and none is all good nor all evil.

Achilles is arrogant, self-absorbed and concerned only with his own legend. They try to soften his image with a subplot involving Hector's cousin Briseis (Rose Byrne), with whom he falls in love, but this twist feels like it's stuffed into the plot. It isn't even in Homer's poem -- but then again, neither is the Trojan horse used at the end of the film.

Paris is a spoiled brat who lacks courage and lets lust -- not love -- rule his actions. The movie tries to make Helen more sympathetic than in Homer's version, but she still comes off as a bit of a ditz. Hector is the closest to a traditional hero in this kind of action/adventure film, but his character doesn't really follow the formula either.

Peter O'Toole, as King Priam of Troy, lends much-needed weight to the project, but his supporting character is not meant to be a hero or carry the dramatic arc of the film. Not that this is necessarily bad, it just may not be the kind of storyline format that audiences are used to, and some may feel cheated with characters who are hard to root for.

Paris, Helen
Troy's Prince Paris, played by Orlando Bloom, left, steals Helen Queen of Sparta, played by Diane Kruger, away from Sparta's King Menelaus.

The story begins with Paris falling in love with Helen during a one-week period when he, and his brother Hector, are signing a peace treaty with her husband, King Menelaus of Sparta (Brendan Gleeson).

With lust burning in his breast, and with little or no consideration of the consequences of their actions, Paris sweeps Helen off to Troy and away from her older husband.

Menelaus, in turn, appeals to his brother, the ambitious and power-hungry Agamemnon, king of the Mycenaeans (Brian Cox). Agamemnon could care less about his brother's dilemma, but he seizes upon the opportunity to attack Troy for the purposes of expanding his kingdom. Hence, Helen becomes the face that launched a thousand ships (or is it Achilles? He's just as pretty).

Stubborn Achilles

Agamemnnon has just one little problem: his greatest warrior, Achilles, holds the king in contempt and must be persuaded to fight.

What saves the day is that Achilles (and seemly everyone else involved) thinks that this battle will go down in history and his name will live forever. Over and over again, Achilles and other characters makes references to this supposed fact. Did they all know Homer was going to write his poem three hundred years later?

O'Toole, Bloom
Peter O'Toole, left, and Orlando Bloom appear in a scene from "Troy."

Those are the film's major flaws. But Petersen's muscular direction, his brilliant manipulations of thousands of extras, his quick eye for historical details, and his stunning use of computer-generated effects make the two major battle scenes leap off the screen.

In addition, the final showdown between Hector and Achilles is spectacular. Petersen captures the brutality of warfare, and in the end this comes off as an anti-war film by underlining the futility of slaughtering men on battlefields in the name of power, land, or even love.

"Troy" is a rip-roaring action flick with lots of adrenaline -- not to mention testosterone. The question is, with so much blood and guts on the evening news, will people want to rush out and see more on the big screen -- even if it does feature Pitt in a short leather skirt?

One small warning: there is a scene in which a soldier's dead body is dragged through the streets behind a chariot. I don't know about you, but for me, that was a little too close to home for entertainment at this time.

"Troy" opens nationwide on Friday, May 14, is rated "R," and runs 163 minutes.


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