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Fri May 14, 2004
An enjoyable and memorable blockbuster to complement a summer of real war and conflicted citizenry.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
Having popular actor hero Brad Pitt ("The Mexican") play classical warrior Achilles could be like having Jim Carey play JFK--It just doesn't seem like a good fit. After all, Pitt's pretty-boy baggage and the otherworldly genes of the greatest fighter in literature don't seem to go together. But they do! Pitt does well enough with Homer's "Iliad" to make sure Wolfgang Petersen's ("Das Boot," "Perfect Storm") will henceforth be shown by all classics departments as the definitive tale of The Trojan War told in "The Iliad" and the "Odyssey." When Pitt as Achilles says he did not engage Hector in the first meeting because "it's too early to kill princes," I was won over by the arrogance and superiority of the hero and the actor.
The adaptation looks good enough to satisfy classics undergrads, who may have read the original in Greek. Besides the proud and lonely Achilles are the vain and cowardly Paris (Orlando Bloom), the foolish and unfaithful Helen (Diane Kruger), the greedy and gaudy Agamemnon (Brian Cox), and the heroic and harried Hector (Eric Bana). The film lays out each one's strength's and weaknesses, integrates the action into the catalytic abduction of Helen and husband Menelaus's (Brendan Gleeson) campaign to gain back his honor. During all this Achilles has to be persuaded to fight because of his feud with Agamemnon, but not a difficult persuasion after Hector unknowingly kills Achilles' beloved cousin, Patroclus (Garrett Hedlund).
When he is on screen, no one can touch Peter O'Toole's ("Lawrence of Arabia") King Priam for royal demeanor, commanding perception, and aching love for his children and people. In his case, the baggage he brings from "Lawrence" and "Lion in Winter" serves him well.
The battles are realistic, not quite as bloody or spiritual as the rout at Agincourt in Kenneth Branagh's magnificent "Henry V." Pitt flies through the air like a stunt man from "Crouching Tiger," and he is pumped up physically even more than he was in "Fight Club." Although he is not yet an Oscar-worthy actor, he brings a commanding physical presence and delivery good enough to help me forget the stardust he carries.
Homer would be happy with this "Iliad" adaptation even if the Trojan horse appears only in the "Odyssey" and Agamemnon's fate is reworked. The spirit is for the ages, thousands of years later, when men still go to war for reasons other than love, occupy other countries at great peril, and die inexplicably happy to have their names emblazoned on memorials while families cope with profound loss.
Tennyson caught the mystery of why men would fight for a faithless woman when he described Helen with the "face that launched a thousand ships/and burnt the topless towers of Ilium." Troy or Iraq, Achilles or Rumsfeld, wars and warriors are forever caught in the myths of Troy faithfully and sympathetically rendered in Wolfgang Petersen's version, an enjoyable and memorable blockbuster to complement a summer of real war and conflicted citizenry.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com.