There's been a long-running debate about whether today's movies are better, on par with or worse than those of previous generations. While the quick and easy consensus often favors the latter, I think that's due to selective memory. Many of us seem only to remember the good or great films from the past while forgetting or at least overlooking the fact that a slew of bad ones came out one year after another.
An advantage that the better and even mediocre ones have over contemporary releases is that many modern viewers cut the older releases some slack when it comes to the writing, directing and acting styles they exhibit. Melodramatic tendencies, over-acting and clunky dialogue often have a way of appearing forgivable and even somewhat charming in older releases, while the same isn't true for contemporary ones.
Such is the case with "Troy," Hollywood's latest attempt at tackling what's regarded as one of Western literature's greatest works, Homer's the Iliad. While it certainly brings to mind the epics of yesteryear with their casts of thousands swarming across vast terrain, it also suffers from some of the problems that are forgivable for past efforts, but decidedly less so for newer releases.
Beyond the artistic liberties that screenwriter David Benioff ("25th Hour") and director Wolfgang Petersen ("A Perfect Storm," "Air Force One") have taken with the Greek poet's influential work, they've apparently decided to make their film in the style of old.
Sure, there's all of the usual state of the art effects, camera work, set and production design and more. Yet, there's also the stiff dialogue, occasionally awkward direction and some moments of overacting that will have some viewers thinking they've stepped back in time when yelling and over-emoting were associated with fine acting.
Then there's the Hollywood star who's been miscast in the film. Yes, I'm referring to Brad Pitt ("Ocean's Eleven," "Spy Game") who jumps, thrust and yells his way through the part of playing the legendary Greek warrior Achilles.
Don't get me wrong. I like Mr. Pitt as an actor and think he's terrific in the right roles. And he certainly doesn't stink up the place with his performance. Yet, despite having the physical look down pat -- the buff bod, flowing main of golden locks and various butt shots will certainly have many a lady's heart aflutter -- he ends up being the film's Achilles' heel.
While viewer response will obviously vary, I just didn't buy him in the role as he felt like a celebrity playing the part rather than the real thing. The wooden dialogue certainly does him no favors as it makes him seem like he's carefully avoiding biting down onto the related splinters that occasionally make him yell out in old, Stanley Kowalski fashion -- albeit for Hector rather than Stella.
For those not up on their Greek literature, however, the filmmakers have oddly decided not to convey the back story behind his and other characters, thus robbing the effort of some of its otherwise intriguing mythology elements. Yes, there are various references to the deities of that polytheist time, but no mention of the titular tendon area that serves as a rather important plot point late in the story.
Most viewers, however, will likely remember at least parts of the famous Trojan horse storyline, and will certainly be enthralled by the various battle scenes if that sort of thing is up their alley. The "Lord of the Rings" films certainly raised the bar for mass battle mayhem and this effort clearly meets or exceeds that. Yet, for all of the technical and stunt prowess on display, most such scenes come off as flat, at least from an emotional level.
With narrowly defined character motivations and no real vested interest in the outcome of any individual battle or the final outcome of the conflict, viewers will likely watch such material and appreciate the effort behind all of it, but not care a lick about any of it. The only moment that truly engaged me was the post Stella/Hector yelling where Pitt's character battles the Trojan one played by Eric Bana ("Hulk," "Black Hawk Down"). While the outcome is a given if you know your literature, the one on one battle is the best such moment the film has to offer.
While somewhat limited by the script, Bana is quite good in the part, especially matching Pitt in the related physical requirements. Less successful is Orlando Bloom ("Pirates of the Caribbean," the "Lord of the Rings" films) who plays the cowardly playboy prince who suddenly develops not only a backbone, but also a propensity for archery.
Fans of his Legolas character from those "Rings" films will likely be in bow heaven, but everyone else will see such moments (while in the original work) as hitting a bit too close to his previous efforts. Fellow "Rings" star Sean Bean ("Ronin," the "Lord of the Rings" films) appears as Homer's other heroic character, Odysseus, but isn't around long enough to do much.
Brian Cox ("X2," "Adaptation") and Brendan Gleeson ("Cold Mountain," "Gangs of New York") are okay in their respective roles as Greek kings, but occasionally feel slightly feel miscast and engage in some of that overacting.
Veteran performer Peter O'Toole ("The Stuntman," "Lawrence of Arabia") -- no doubt aided by his legendary status in epic films -- steals every scene he's in, but Julie Christie ("Afterglow," "Heaven Can Wait") only gets one for herself. And Diane Kruger ("Michel Vaillant," "Whatever You Say"), while certainly pretty enough for the part of Helen, just doesn't convey the overall beauty that was capable of launching a thousand ships.
If you don't know what I'm talking about -- especially after seeing the film -- you'll realize that filmmakers are apparently assuming that the average moviegoer is up on the back story fueling the main plot. Its omission doesn't derail the effort -- nor do the other problems -- but the result is an epic wannabe that just doesn't manage to ascend to that vaulted cinematic status. Not horrible, but certainly nothing great and oddly flat despite all of the mayhem and over-emoting, "Troy" rates as a 5 out of 10.