Troy (2004)

A Ben-Hur for the new millennium.

This season's testosterone treat is a cinematic triple-threat; a gritty historical epic sparkling with entertainment value and beefcake.

How bravely they fought and how fiercely they loved, those inhabitants of ancient Greece. The kingdoms' tenuous alliance, based on nothing more than a wing and a prayer, is shattered when Paris, prince of Troy (Orlando Bloom), falls for legendary beauty Helen, queen of Sparta (Diane Kruger), and ignites a war that will ravage an entire civilization.

The all-powerful and arrogant Agamemnon, King of the Mycenaeans (Brian Cox), is affronted by Paris' risky deed, declaring it an insult to his family honor, considering that Helen is betrothed to his brutish brother, King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson). Agamemnon's affront masks a monumental greed and an overwhelming desire to ensure total domination of a vast empire.

The walled city of Troy is Agamemnon's target, its conquest imperative for control of the Aegean and the final piece of the puzzle that represents his dynasty. But Troy will not topple easily, marked by the august leadership of dynamic King Priam (Peter O'Toole) and Paris' noble brother, Prince Hector (Eric Bana).

Power takes shape in a hostile engagement extravaganza, a Trojan War uniting the massive tribes of Greece to seize Helen back from Troy. Enter renegade warlord Achilles (Brad Pitt), the greatest warrior for the greatest war ever seen. The invincible Achilles answers to no one, his allegiances reserved for himself and no other. He fights for his own glory, but Achilles' insatiable hunger for the spotlight induces him to duel for Agamemnon against the mighty Trojan soldiers.

Troy is cheerfully reminiscent of the old-school epics, a Ben-Hur for the new millennium. Borderline cheesy but fraught with emotion, every frame packs a wallop of masculine energy. The Greeks are bound by a common and simple credo -- honor the gods, love your woman and defend your country. Bearing that in mind, the fur flies fast and furiously as tribe goes against tribe and will clashes with ego; all for the misguided love of a queen and a chapter in the annals of history.

Personalities abound in this ensemble gone wild. Cox is thoroughly convincing as the ruthless Agamemnon, the ideal counterpoint to Bloom's callow and sensitive Paris. Kruger's Helen may be the face that launched a thousand ships, but she's got the personality of a shipwreck.

Pitt's self-absorbed and conflicted Achilles is cut and chiseled to a T, with golden locks and eyes that speak volumes of tragedy and longing. But Troy belongs to Bana as the magnanimous Hector, a royal ruler of principle whose fealty and loyalty are the mark of a genuine hero.

Troy overplays its hand a bit, as is to be expected when hosting a cast of computer-generated thousands. Its vagaries of war are an all-too-timely commentary on the futility and brutality of boys wielding toys. Inspired by Homer's The Iliad, the legend is loosely re-envisioned to encompass a workable contemporary narrative.

Director Wolfgang Petersen, no stranger to bigger-than-life epics (Das Boot, The Perfect Storm), offers up a well-crafted action-adventure with enough character depth to generate intimacy amidst the chaos. What Troy lacks in focus it makes up for in popcorn thrills.

Rating: R for nudity and violence. 2 hours, 45 minutes.

--Jeanne Aufmuth