I was dragged to a Chicago suburb Saturday night to watch an abysmal set of stand-up comics in the basement of a bowling alley. One performer began his set with this: .Anyone see the ads for Troy? Is it just me or does this look like the most expensive gay porno ever made? Or at least like a birthday party an eccentric gay billionaire would throw for himself.. His Troy gag was helpful to me in that it highlighted a challenge of the film and its marketing: its appeal to men. Will Joe Average and Hank Beer want to see a movie about Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom and 50,000 sweaty, muscled, tunic-wearing men . even with a war as its centerpiece? The answer will be seen over the next few weeks when word of mouth reveals Troy to be either an omni-gendered affair or an expensive, almost all-male chick flick.
For those not familiar with the oldest and most enduring story ever told (older than the Bible), or for those who only know Homer as a bumbling, animated family patriarch, Troy goes like this: Trojan princes Hector (Eric Bana) and Paris (Bloom) are on a peace-keeping errand in Sparta. Paris falls for kingly host Menelaus. lovely young bride Helen (Diane Kruger), and he whisks her back to Troy for his own. This starts a war between Troy and most of Greece, and only a great, big, wooden horse and the might of warrior Achilles (Pitt) can infiltrate the impenetrable walls of Troy and avenge the .theft..
Pitt worked out ferociously for months, with four hours a day of intensive body-building and four hours of fight training. Physically, he is everything that Achilles should be: beautiful, god-like, a fighting machine. But the script and direction betray him. Achilles is not a brooding, James Dean, introspective Hamlet-type, which is how he is played by Pitt. Achilles is a hero with a tragic flaw (almost always hubris). The Iliad, like the writings of the ancient Greeks, is not about language or character development. It.s about larger-than-life themes: gods, goddesses, vengeance and might, and fury and fate. With fate behind all decisions, there is almost no need for character because there is no inner struggle. The Greek myths are painted in the broadest of strokes to create the largest of pictures. Twenty-first century audiences require nuance and detail (not that Troy has much of either), and so this story is saddled with a mortality and humanity that saps it of what makes it great in the first place: infinity.
Unfortunately, the disappointment lands on Pitt, who must straddle immortality and death in a role that asks little more of him than pouting . especially when his .cousin. Patroclus is killed, mistaken for Achilles. This would have made more sense if the script acknowledged Patroclus as Achilles. lover. But since that could be a turn-off, we will just have to wonder why Achilles gets so mad when Patroclus dies . just like in the 1958 film version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with the threat of homosexuality confusingly excised for mainstream audiences.
Troy has much to prove. Pitt, a superstar and a member of Hollywood.s $20-million club, has only carried a blockbuster once: Seven, and that was nine years ago. Likewise, Troy.s success will have much to say about the leading-man future of Eric Bana, whose supporting performance was the best thing about Ridley Scott.s 2001 Black Hawk Down but who languished as Ang Lee.s 2003 titular Hulk. Pitt will do fine because he.s buff and fights well, and we all know he can act from Seven and Twelve Monkeys, and he should have hits long through Ocean.s Twenty. And it will be some time yet before a romantic comedy or courtroom drama will test Bloom.s mettle. But so long as he.s shooting arrows and buckling swashes in the company of $200 million-grossing Hobbits and pirates, he.s safe. It.s Bana who is the revelation as Hector. His warrior physique and huge, vulnerable eyes mix perfectly for a romantic hero. Hulk, Shmulk. He will survive.
Fortunately, Troy follows the model of all great and not-so-great Hollywood epics by having a multi-national cast with British accents for characters who wouldn.t have spoken English, anchored by the last surviving British theatrical aristocracy. That.s why we get Peter O.Toole as King Priam, who, dusted off, is still the best actor in any scene he is in, despite squandering his legend for a quarter century with poop like Club Paradise and Supergirl.
My advice: Come for the Brad, savor the Bloom, and stay for the Bana. And never, under any circumstances, underestimate O.Toole. n