If your vision of a sword-and-sandals epic has Victor Mature, Kirk Douglas, or Russell Crowe as the muscle-flexing hero, get ready to feast your eyes on some serious B.C. beefcake. Those screen gladiators are lumpy couch potatoes compared to the gym rats in Troy.
The bronzed and buffed loins of Achilles (Brad Pitt), Hector (Eric Bana), and Paris (Orlando Bloom) glisten with sweat and blood. It's a wonder the gods, known to be a lusty bunch, don't reach down and snatch them up for their own pleasure.
Wolfgang Petersen's sumptuous production has female eye candy also: a Helen (Diane Kruger) whose face could launch a modern carrier group, and an Andromache (model Saffron Burrows) literally straight from the pages of a fashion rag. And the movie has many other, less carnal delights. But the overriding message is, no matter how strenuous the demands of love and war, always make time to work out with your trainer and spray on some self-tanner, glitter optional.
In truth, there really is more inside Troy than the next Playgirl or Playboy spread. The parts of Homer's Iliad dealing with the Trojan Wars eventually conquer all, despite a blinkered adaptation by David Benioff. They may have beefed up the actors, yet Benioff's redundant script is shrink-wrapped. If any of the costumes had sleeves, you might say the movie wears its heroism on its sleeve. Biceps and haunches will have to do.
Given the constant harping on warrior's wanting their names to live on in posterity, it's surprising the word hubris is never uttered. Leading the Greeks into battle for mainly selfish reasons, Achilles is obsessed with seeking glory through killing and conquest. He's got both eyes on the history books. And while the Greeks incessantly refer to martial glory, the religious Trojans, especially King Priam (Peter O'Toole), are obsessed with the gods, in particular their patron Apollo. A few choice lines about war's futility and the eagerness of geezers to send young men to the slaughter don't change the fact this is a celebration of battlefield valor, at the expense of subtler themes.
A virtue of the one-dimensional screenplay is that it makes Homer's complex saga easy to follow. 3200 years ago the Trojan War began when a young prince ran off with the willing wife of a Greek King. Her name was Helen. Paris and his older brother Hector bring her home, giving the Greek king of kings Agamemnon (Brian Cox) an excuse to invade.
Filmed on Malta and in Mexico, the film's pace is its best tribute to military precision. After a series of mano-e-mano fights and awesome large-scale battles, we get to the trick horse and the sacking of Troy. The violence is pronounced but tasteful by contemporary standards. James Horner's music is gratingly bombastic. Composers should be given a tranquilizer before they sit down to score big-budget epics. Only during the wonderfully tense and balletic marquee duel between Hector and Achilles is the soundtrack unobtrusive.
With one notable exception -- hint: he wore pointy ears in a recent trio of fantasy blockbusters -- the acting is up to snuff. Pitt convinces without having the look of a killer in his eyes. Maybe it's the muscles. And he nails the aloof, sullen side of Achilles. As the sympathetic and noble Hector, Bana is rock solid. Representing the thespian pantheon, O'Toole squeezes every drop out of his role. Don't miss his ghastly facial expression watching Troy burn.
Although Troy lacks scope and anything approximating mythic grandeur, the essence of the tale is hammered out. Homer would be pleased. Worse things have been done to The Iliad than turning its heroes into pin-ups.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "R" for graphic violence and some sexuality/nudity.)