A vigorous spin on the glorious excesses of classic sword-and-sandal epics, Wolfgang Petersen's stripped-down chronicle of the 10-year Trojan War is fatally undermined by golden boy Brad Pitt's reduction of legendary warrior Achilles to a sullen fame whore with to-die-for cheekbones. Screenwriter David Benioff pares away the supporting players, reshuffles...read more
A vigorous spin on the glorious excesses of classic sword-and-sandal epics, Wolfgang Petersen's stripped-down chronicle of the 10-year Trojan War is fatally undermined by golden boy Brad Pitt's reduction of legendary warrior Achilles to a sullen fame whore with to-die-for cheekbones. Screenwriter David Benioff pares away the supporting players, reshuffles the chronology of key events and ditches the meddlesome Olympians whose caprices drive the twists and turns of Homer's epic poem, The Iliad (plus a smidgen of The Aeneid), in favor of a thoroughly earthbound path to war. Trojan princes Hector (Eric Bana) and Paris (Orlando Bloom) are sent by their father, King Priam (Peter O'Toole), to seal a peace treaty with King Menelaus of Sparta (Brendan Gleeson). But callow Paris seduces Menelaus' wife, Helen (Diana Kruger), and spirits her back to Troy, too besotted to care that his actions will condemn his country to war. The cuckolded Menelaus appeals to his power-hungry older brother, Agamemnon (Brian Cox), who sees an excuse to add Troy to his empire of conquered nations. Agamemnon recruits the volatile, self-interested Achilles and raises an überarmy with a single purpose: the destruction of Troy. The success of GLADIATOR (2000) suggested to Hollywood that 21st-century audiences were willing to embrace ancient epics, especially if the brawny heroes offset the fetishy effect of he-man miniskirts with modern-day motivations. Petersen orchestrates a handsome battle sequence, but this attenuated stew of stagy posturing and unconvincing domestic drama runs aground on Pitt's preening deportment and drama-class line readings, even with Achilles reconceived as a celebrity-craving bad boy with authority issues. If the Greeks had thought to invent cigarettes, he'd have one perpetually dangling from the corner of his mouth. And reports of Pitt's constant nudity are greatly exaggerated, amounting to no more than the kind of coyly sculpted poses commonly used to sell underwear and perfume. Bloom took the lion's share of criticism for being too shallow and pretty to play a Bronze Age brawler, but at least Paris isn't supposed to be a warrior — he was always a pampered lothario predestined to do the wrong thing (the notion of implacable fate is, of course, jettisoned with the gods). Sean Bean makes the most of the cruelly truncated role of Odysseus, who conceives the treacherous wooden horse that seals Troy's fate, and Bana negotiates the transitions between family melodrama and armored smackdowns with surprising grace. But even the dramatic heavy hitters, who include Cox, Gleeson, O'Toole and Julie Christie, as Achilles' mother, are powerless in the face of Pitt's yawning hollowness.
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