Homer's Iliad, 3,000 years in the telling — and this film, $175 million in the making — deserve a little respect. No "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts" jokes. No "I went to UCLA so I hate the Trojans" jokes. There will be a face that launched a thousand ships joke — I'm not perfect.
What did we get for $175 million? A mixed review, though what's good far outweighs what isn't.
We'll start with what's terrific: Peter O'Toole as King Priam. When his son Paris brings home Helen to Troy, he's followed by those thousand ships, and O'Toole says as much with his eyes and the lines on his face as he does with words. Great acting.
Unfortunately, the love scenes between Orlando Bloom's Paris and Diane Kruger's Helen might have been snipped out of the Olsen twins' new movie, and that's not what launches a thousand ships. This Helen's look and a token would get you on the Staten Island Ferry.
Brad Pitt is Achilles, the abs that launched a thousand ships. He goes mano-a-mano with Hector (Erik Bana in a star-making performance), in one of the great movie fights. I'm not giving away the ending. The results have been common knowledge for approximately 3,000 years. Achilles wins.
The problem is, there are too many adversaries, too many characters and — perhaps to be noticed above the crowd of extras — too much over-acting. There's also an hour of exposition before the battle scenes kick in and the script hits its stride. But when it does, pass the popcorn, it's great summer fun at the movies.
When Hector is slain by Achilles and dragged away by his heels, his father, King Priam, smuggles himself through his enemy's encampment, to face Achilles and demand his son's body for proper burial. This is true Greek tragedy, as deep as human emotion can get. O'Toole and Brad Pitt are excellent, so excellent and this scene may finally win Peter O'Toole an Oscar.
Troy is not always faithful to Homer's Iliad, but mostly (and most surprisingly), it works. So well, in fact, there was a rumor going around Hollywood that at least two studio heads heard the buzz that Troy was going through the roof and said, "Get me Homer's agent, I'm going to sew up his next book." Grade: B+