In what could be a desperate need to establish a theme amid the bluster and bloodshed, Troy, Wolfgang Petersen's epic-scale retelling of the Trojan War, keeps returning to the notion that the only assurance of immortality comes from stepping up at history's decisive moments. But beneath its thousand ships and clashing swords, Troy treats history itself as the meaningless march of soap-opera emotions. When Orlando Bloom's Paris and Diane Kruger's Helen profess their love for each other, unconvincingly and verbosely, it's tough to believe that one of the cornerstone events of Western culture has its roots in a passion on loan from Days Of Our Lives. There may be a great, cynical movie to be made from that notion, but in Troy, it seems like an accident.
Troy falls into the same trap that's plagued films about antiquity since the first Hollywood prop department stitched the first loincloth: It's easy to throw money into making a movie that looks good, but much harder to make a movie that is good. And Troy does look good—so good, in fact, that it takes a while to reveal itself as a thundering dud with much action but little personality, human drama, or brains. The film opens with a rousing, well-staged fight between Brad Pitt's Achilles and a lumbering giant, but once the story kicks in, it's a long, slow slide to the inevitable arrival of the big wooden horse. When, for example, Bloom returns to Troy, having secured a treaty with Greece before negating it by stealing the wife of the Spartan king, he's greeted by cheering crowds. Either there's a death wish deeply ingrained in the Trojan character, or their civilization is too stupid to survive even without the intervention of the Greek hordes.
Troy features plenty of talent on both sides of the camera, but with a couple of exceptions (Eric Bana as a pensive Hector, Brian Cox's scenery-chewing Agamemnon), everyone seems to be performing at their worst. Pitt never gets a handle on a character that's part Han Solo, part petulant teen. David Benioff, writer of the great 25th Hour, supplies a screenplay with faux-epic dialogue better suited to a Richard Burton costumer than to Homer, who might not be too eager to claim his "inspired by" credit. The alterations range from the philosophical—no gods meddle with the warfare—to the absurd. Instead of a decadelong war, Troy compresses the action into what looks like a particularly bloody spring-break excursion.
One decent scene is genuinely inspired by Homer, and not just taken from Homer. When Peter O'Toole's mournful King Priam unexpectedly shows up at Pitt's tent, asking for a merciful gesture, there's more tension than in any of the impressive-looking but meaningless battle scenes. Otherwise, it's not even clear whether Petersen bothered to read The Iliad. When Achilles' sulking is ended by his friend's death, he returns to the battlefield. It's the original "I've come to take my revenge" moment, one that echoes through stories from the Homeric age through Kill Bill. So why does Petersen make Pitt look like a school principal on his way to administer a paddling? There are no outsized passions here, no mythic moments, and no tragedies to echo through eternity—just a lot of unconvincing drama interrupted by the occasional chucked spear. Legend has seldom looked so mundane.