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Epic an echo of excellence

By R.H. Joseph

No, it's not bitterness that compels me to refer to Brad Pitt's performance in "Troy" as ludicrous. Despite the lustful yearnings expressed by my female co-workers regarding the desirability of the gorgeous multimillionaire I am not envious. Though modest, my income is sufficient.

And no, it's not Pitt's absurd decision to attempt a British accent whilst portraying a denizen of the lands surrounding the Aegean Sea. His ill-conceived intonations are no more disconcerting than Brendon Gleeson's Irish accent or the universal air-head mall rat accent of Helen of Troy (Diane Kruger), the known world's most beautiful woman 3200 years ago.

The problem is context. Director Wolfgang Peterson elects to cast Brian Cox and Peter O'Toole as the hunk's co-stars and these guys can act their togas off. In fact, O'Toole gives one of his finest performances in recent memory.

He and Cox provide intellectually and emotionally complex characters while the characters portrayed by Pitt and Kruger are defined solely by their physical beauty. The latter two are one-dimensional cinematic nonentities, agglomerations of fleshy sensuality devoid of identity.

Those who relish superlative acting would do well to consider the imaginative agenda of a female co-worker. She asked if I could approximate when Pitt reveals his naked derriere so she could arrive late and avoid all the guy stuff (battles, blood and braggadocio).

If you swoon in the presence of such exalted craft as manifest by Cox and O'Toole you should likewise time your entrance to coincide with their scenes. (Neither reveals their derriere.)

The film is undermined by many things, foremost of which is this odd juxtaposition of the richly talented with the superficially pretty. This ill-conceived casting achieves its apotheosis in a scene in which King Priam (O'Toole) begs Achilles (Pitt) for the return of his dead son's body.

He of the golden tresses, sculpted body and babe-magnet countenance, Pitt, is rendered cinematically insignificant by the withered and dissipated septuagenarian, O'Toole. Apparently the director felt Homer's classic tale needed more than powerful acting to render the story stirring.

Ill-conceived juxtapositions abound. The camera lingers admiringly upon the face of Helen (Diane Kruger) but every time she opens her mouth she sounds like a nitwit.

Defining female beauty thus is the quintessence of sexism. Perhaps an actor reflecting a little less of the classic Greek aesthetic and a little more of the depth and character possessed by the truly worthy might support Helen's standing as one of the most famous women in history.

For those who cannot recall the essence of Homer's story, Paris (Orlando Bloom) swipes Helen (they're lovebirds) from her Greek husband Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) and brings her back to Troy, his father's kingdom. Menelaus's brother, Agamemnon (Brian Cox), uses this as an excuse to attack Troy and its king, Priam (O'Toole). And therein lies a tale.

Electing to make a film focusing on massive armies engaged in brutal hand to hand combat in the period immediately following the superlative "Lord of the Rings" trilogy is yet another ill-conceived notion. In the wake of Peter Jackson's roughly 11.5 magnificent hours of cinematic mayhem what could Wolfgang Peterson do but recapitulate that with which we have grown intimately familiar?

On top of this, perhaps casting Orlando Bloom as an archer (particularly one requiring practice) should have been reconsidered. Maybe there are a few cave dwelling hermits in the deserts of North Africa who do not have Bloom's image as the pointy-eared Legolas indelibly etched in their minds, but as for the rest of us, we are all perfectly aware of the man's skill as a bowman.

Rendering Homer a pale reflection of Tolkien borders on the criminal.

All this visual familiarity in turn undermines the cinematography. Had we not so recently reveled in the vistas of Middle Earth we might be swept away by the physical scope of "Troy." But having reveled, we're not.

Nor are we swept away by this cautionary tale of hubris and the price civilization repeatedly pays when it acquiesces to the will of an arrogant, predatory empire builder who believes he has the endorsement of the gods.

In another age we might reflect upon the lessons taught so long ago by Homer and find the film an enriching reminder of what we once were and how far we have come.

Alas, to watch "Troy" is to marvel not at the poet's insights into human psychology and how we have transcended our insignificance but at how, after 3000 years, humanity has learned nothing. We continue to succumb to the same weaknesses, the same hubris.

Aside from the quality work by Cox and O'Toole and this disheartening reflection of America's status quo, the film's remaining laudable facet is its thematic and visual recapitulation of the cornball epics of the late '50s and early '60s filmed in CinemaScope, VistaVision and Todd-AO.

The first portion of the virtually interminable "Troy" (163 minutes) appears a homage to such films, though I suspect Peterson has no idea just how hokey it is.