Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sun May 16, 2004 12:12 am 
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Beefcake medium rather than well done

I was expecting a cheesy Hollywood epic with cute guys. Actually, it's not that simple. It's a "sword and sandal" epic, all right, but a very creditable example of the genre. Some of the dialogue is stupid, but not laugh-out-loud stupid, just lost-in-translation stupid. The music is pretty corny and conventional. But the battles are very well done, and the images (and not just the young heroes) are handsome. The burning of Troy is spectacular. My friends and I were discussing whether Diane Kruger (Helen) was as pretty as Orlando Bloom (Paris). We decided no. Brad Pitt swaggers wonderfully and is an impressive sword-and-sandal warrior. Unlike in Gladiator, you almost see what's going on during the major mano-a-mano encounters. I think this movie looks a lot better than most of the toga epics of earlier decades.

Anyone who thinks a multimillion-dollar movie about the Trojan War would turn out to be an art film is doomed to be rudely disappointed. Did anyone think Das Boot was an art film? Wolfgang Petersen is a respected name. But has anyone noticed what he has made since Das Boot? An average quality fable for kids (The Never Ending Story), a cheesy mystery story about loss of memory (Shattered), the workmanlike presidential assassin flick In the Line of Fire, dignified by the presence of Clint Eastwood as a secret service ace and John Malkovich as the would be assassin; Air Force One, more of the same, only with Harrison Ford as the president and Gary Oldman as the villain; and then that digital fiasco, The Perfect Storm, in which the town of Gloucester seems to be the only real thing. On what was Petersen’s reputation based? Well, the gripping submarine adventure drama, Das Boot, made in 1981. In Troy he attempts something just as conventional, but more complex: the recreation of the legendary tales of the Trojan war that we know from Homer.

The result is neither a great masterpiece nor a flop, but a big movie that succeeds very well in some areas and fails in others. Those who choose not to see the whole picture will come down on one side or the other, of course. I think Roger Ebert goes way overboard against, just as David Denby in The New Yorker goes pretty far overboard pro (though he does get in some digs along the way and at the end, so it hardly adds up to a rave). The truth, as so often is the case, lies somewhere in between. I'd go with Jonathan Rosenbaum who says the movie "has plenty of visual sweep, fine action sequences, and, thanks especially to Brad Pitt (as Achilles) and Peter O'Toole (as King Priam), a deeper sense of character than one might expect from a sword-and-sandal epic." Indeed the scene where O'Toole as Priam sneaks into the tent of Pitt as Achilles is very touching, and O'Toole has the most emotional moments in a movie that is more about politics and fighting than the clashes of wills and manipulations of the gods you find in Homer. I'm sorry if anyone is disappointed, but I think if they are they're probably expecting something the movie could never have delivered.

As everyone notes with admiration or disdain, Brad is super-buff and so are all the other guys. That's the trend, isn't it? Even pimply highschoolers crave sixpacks and abs. It's not just the yuppies any more who put in hours every week at the gym. Consequently the difference between this and the Hollywood epics of the Fifties and Sixties is they don't have to call in professional body builders to star any more: the A-list guys in Beverly Hills all work out. You kind of wonder if Hector, Paris, Menalaus, Achilles, et al. really had Nautilus 3,000 years ago. One kind of thinks not. They sure didn't have personal trainers. But every decade has its own Hollywood epic look, and this one's is super-buff.

Another fair assessment, from A.O.Scott: "for what it is — a big, expensive, occasionally campy action movie full of well-known actors speaking in well-rounded accents — 'Troy' is not bad. It has the blocky, earnest integrity of a classic comic book, and it labors to respect the strangeness and grandeur of its classical sources. Some moments may make you rue the existence of cinema, or at least of movies with sound, since the dialogue often competes with James Horner's score for puffed-up obviousness. But there are others — crisply edited combat sequences, tableaus of antique splendor, a hugely muscled Brad Pitt modeling the latest in Hellenic leisure wear — that remind you why you like movies in the first place."

One might have hoped that, with Hollywood as gay-friendly as it is now, there'd be some kind of romance going on between Achilles and Patroclus, as tradition says there was. But that's soft-pedaled, with the result that Achilles' rage over the death of Patroclus doesn't make a great deal of sense (and according to its famous opening Achilles' rage is what the Iliad is all about). The filmmakers can justify their primness on this, though, because Homer doesn't explicitly say Achilles and Patroclus were lovers. This will disappoint the gay audience, especially since it's a throwback to the timidity about such subjects of many decades ago.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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