The Greeks and Trojans are at it again. But will the gods smile upon Troy, Wolfgang Petersen's big-budget retelling of The Iliad starring Brad Pitt as a miniskirted Achilles? Perhaps not, given that Troy hasn't smiled upon the gods, scratching them off the cast list before filming began. In Homer's epic poem, the gods are constantly intervening, playing favorites. In Petersen's film, they're invoked but nowhere to be found. Man has become the measure of all things -- a Renaissance notion that would make more sense if Troy had the Shakespearean heft of Gladiator. Instead, it's a '50s sword-and-sandals extravaganza retooled with the latest in computer-generated mayhem. And even here, the movie often comes up short. The battle scenes, though grandiosely scaled, are somewhat perfunctory. And the prattle scenes, where men discuss how to achieve immortality (think high body count), lack rhetorical punch. "You sack of wine!" Pitt's Achilles says to Brian Cox's Agamemnon, who's become the villain of the piece. What I would have given for a sack of wine at that point.
Not that Homer's poem is stuffed with quotable quotes; "rosy-fingered dawn" is about the only phrase I remember. But there are a lot of scenery-chewers in Troy and not quite enough scenery to go around. Cox works up a fine lather as the power-hungry Agamemnon. And Brendan Gleeson tries to match him as Menelaus, the most famous cuckold of all time. Alas, Diane Kruger's Helen, whose face is supposed to launch a thousand ships, might as well be doing commercials for outboard-motor oil. And Orlando Bloom's Paris doesn't seem to realize that Troy is about to be sacked simply because he wanted to get laid. Why men fight is the movie's dominant theme. Is it for love? For honor? For glory? For country? Achilles, whom Pitt endows with weary ferocity, at first fights for immortality. He wants his name to be remembered forever, and he's willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. But then he starts to see the folly in that, turns his back on Homer's fame-and-shame game. An interesting idea, but Pitt isn't really up to the challenge. He bares his butt, not his soul. All hail, Gluteus Maximus.