gen-x-review-troy-movie-poster.jpgWho would have thought a film adaptation of a Disneyland ride (Pirates of the Caribbean) would prove to be more epic than a movie based on Homer’s Iliad?

Misleadingly called Troy – perhaps because producers thought Americans would get caught up with the difficult pronunciation of “Iliad” – the new Brad Pitt vehicle is the type of film designed to get slacker college students in trouble.

I can see the summary on the essay portion of their first test already:

“The Iliad is the story of Achilles (Brad Pitt), who looks dreamy in leather pants and the Trojan prince Hector (Eric Bana) from Melbourne, Australia. Agamemnon leads the Greeks and the Trojan’s king is Peter O’Toole, who used to play James Bond, I think. But anyways, it’s the illicit love affair between Paris (Orlando Bloom without that cheesy mustache he used to have) and Helen (Dian Kruger, who isn’t all that IMHO) that really pisses everyone off, so I guess the mortal of the story is that love is more powerful than war or something…”

Classics college professors should be on the lookout for references to Achilles’ super heterosexuality since a lot of time is spent showing Pitt in the buff surrounded by multiple female partners. Correct me if I’m wrong, but my copy of Barron’s Cliff Notes for Homer’s Iliad clearly describes Achilles as a fag.
I understand it might be as difficult for Americans to understand the concept that queers can be macho warriors as it is for them to say “Iliad,” but this sort of revisionism rubs me the wrong way.

The film uses the Iliad, random bits of mythology and the beginning of Virgil’s Aenid as scaffolding to attach this rather ordinary action film to. Less faithful in spirit than the recent remakes of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Othello, Troy is really the story of Hollywood’s incessant need to plunder the most sacred texts to come up with even a hint of novelty.

I don’t mean to suggest that Homer is a better storyteller than Hollywood, but I guess I’m just not comfortable handing classic works of literature over to the same folks who write commercials for deodorant and have produced such works of art as Joe Dirt and Scotland, PA.

Pitt, who does indeed look dreamy in leather pants, hits all the right notes at the wrong time. He shines in scenes where his performance doesn’t much matter and flops where his acting could make a difference; Bana is strangely ineffective and seems incapable of making Hector come alive, but make no mistakes: If Peter O’Toole couldn’t save the film, Pitt, Bana and Bloom had no chance at all.

Although it’s amusing to hear Pitt fake a British accent to play an ancient Greek hero, it’s the nuances that give the movie away, like the fact that the filmmakers forgot to include the pantheon of gods who appear in Homer’s work. An argument could be made that director Wolfgang Petersen wanted to emphasize the story’s realism, but franchises like the Lord of the Rings and the Star Wars series prove that supernatural forces do not necessarily make a film feel contrived.

The gods may have made the film more epic and almost certainly would have offered us a little respite from the dull human interactions. The Greek heroes seem flat and dull, little more than repackaged action figures. The army battles are among the least inspired in recent years with legions of computer-generated and most anonymous figures fighting with yawn-inspiring regularity, and the dramatic affectations ring hollow.

How seriously can we take the central relationships – perhaps best illustrated between Achilles and his gay lover Patroclus (Garrett Hedlund) – when the filmmaker seems uninterested in developing his characters in an honest way?

Motivation, people! Why does Paris sacrifice Troy to his love for Helen? What’s the meaning of Achilles’ warrior code and how should we contrast this with Hector’s bourgeois values? More importantly, why is this story important? Homer seems trite and trashy when rendered without magic, grace or truth.

I wouldn’t recommend Troy over Barron’s Cliff’s Notes to young slackers wanting to find an easy way out reading the Iliad, and folks who actually love Homer will be very disappointed in this adaptation. It’s not so much a betrayal of the epic as a crass, thoughtless, commercial mess in its own right.

The barbarians are at the gate! What’s next, a cinematic recreation of the crucifixion using MTV special effects? Hollywood must be stopped!


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