Pin It
Submit to Reddit

The Fog of War 

Ambitious movie mixes the intimate with the epic

Trust Hollywood to further fictionalize a story that has long been regarded as one of the greatest works of fiction ever created. Troy may be all about Achilles and Hector and Helen and that infernal heel, yet there's a reason a screen credit states that the movie was "inspired by" Homer's The Iliad rather than the more common "based on" tag.

Yet only the anal-retentives among us should object to this celluloid treatment of a story that should be familiar to anyone who ever regularly attended their high school English classes. Troy is a big, brawny movie that scores on a handful of levels: as a rousing epic that puts its budget where its mouth is; as a thoughtful tale in which men struggle with issues involving honor, loyalty and bravery; and as a topical treatise on what happens when soldiers blindly follow their leaders into war.

Homer's yarn juggled so many characters and grappled with so many melodramatic plot turns -- often, it feels like Dallas before TV sets were invented -- that screenwriter David Benioff had no choice but to compress the timeline and thin out the population (for starters, the gods are outta there). What remains is clearly based on Homer though not always faithful to him. Hector (Eric Bana) and Paris (Orlando Bloom), sons of King Priam (Peter O'Toole) of Troy, attend a banquet set forth by King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), but things quickly turn sour once it's discovered that Paris, a classic "I'm a lover, not a fighter" sort, has fallen for Menelaus' young wife Helen (Diane Kruger) and swept her away to his homeland. Outraged, Menelaus turns to his brother Agamemnon (Brian Cox), a power-hungry ruler who sees this as an opportunity to declare war against the Trojans. But the Trojans are known as formidable adversaries, and it's widely believed that the only way the Greeks can emerge victorious is if they can count on the leadership of Achilles (Brad Pitt), the greatest warrior the world has ever known.

For his part, Achilles cares nothing about restored honor or Greek pride, and he despises Agamemnon to such a degree that he regularly won't show up for battles in which his presence is sorely needed. Instead, the vain Achilles only fights to further his own legend, eager to insure that his name will live on forever. As presented here, he represents an early stage of the anti-hero, the brooding macho man who embraces his aptitude at dispensing death because it's simply what he does best. He provides a stark contrast to Hector, a natural if reluctant leader who would prefer to avoid the limelight and spend some quality time with the wife and kid.

Director Wolfgang Petersen, an old pro at making exciting movies about stalwart men thrust into daunting situations (Das Boot, The Perfect Storm, Air Force One), never allows the epic to overwhelm the intimate. That's not to say that the film doesn't deliver the requisite bang for the buck: Despite some occasionally clumsy CGI work (though nowhere near as incompetent as the effects created for Van Helsing), the battle sequences are staggering to behold, and the best of the bunch is the smallest in scale, a bloody mano-a-mano between Achilles and Hector. Still, for all the grandeur, many of the most memorable sequences are the talky ones, most notably a discussion on why it's the gods who envy men and not the other way around, and a tent-side meeting between Achilles and King Priam that single-handedly might win Peter O'Toole that Oscar that has long evaded him.

O'Toole's performance is tender and touching, yet the picture's top acting honors go to Eric Bana. Deadly dull as Bruce Banner in the superhero dud Hulk, Bana redeems himself with a commanding performance as Hector -- oozing strength and sensitivity in equal measure, he emerges as the clear audience favorite. By comparison, Brad Pitt is never wholly convincing in this ancient setting, but he exhibits enough charisma and resolve to make a passable Achilles. Most of the other key roles, from the heroic Odysseus (played by Sean Bean) to Hector's cousin Briseis (Rose Byrne), are well cast, with only German model Diane Kruger failing to hold up her end -- her Helen is a boring beauty, hardly worth the war effort that surrounds her.

And speaking of war, viewers who enjoy pinpointing modern analogies in period pieces won't have any trouble finding plenty of subtext in Troy. Screenwriter David Benioff previously penned Spike Lee's 25th Hour (adapting his own novel), and that film, with its subplot involving the effects of 9/11 on its New York characters, remains one of the few movies produced since that tragedy to bring real-world issues onto the screen. Given Benioff's frankness, then, it can't just be a coincidence that his Iliad adaptation is full of exchanges that dwell upon the reasons that nations elect to go to war, as well as the toll that such battles inflict upon everyone involved. Certainly, there are numerous lines that could easily be applied to the White House warhawks, the mess they've created in Iraq, and the soldiers that are being sacrificed to further their own insidious agendas: "Don't waste your life following some fool's orders"; "I see 50,000 men brought here to fight for one man's greed"; "History remembers generals, not soldiers"; and "War is young men dying and old men talking." Benioff's lines are so relevant, it's a wonder the Kerry campaign hasn't yet tapped him as a speechwriter.

But forget the topicality if you want -- anyway, it's only there if you scratch the surface. What isn't buried is the movie's larger-than-life zeal, its eager desire to engage our senses with a timeless tale that breathes anew in an admittedly tweaked condition. Helen's face may have been what launched a thousand ships, but, disregarding last week's abominable Van Helsing, we can only hope that Troy will be the movie that launches a noteworthy summer season.

Pin It
Submit to Reddit

Speaking of Film_feature.html, 5.00000


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Creative Loafing encourages a healthy discussion on its website from all sides of the conversation, but we reserve the right to delete any comments that detract from that. Violence, racism and personal attacks that go beyond the pale will not be tolerated.

Search Events
items in Creative Loafing Charlotte More in Creative Loafing Charlotte pool

© 2018 Womack Newspapers, Inc.
Powered by Foundation