Troy-mendous: Make movies, not war

In terms of historical accuracy, Troy, inspired by Homer's The Iliad, is probably on a par with Van Helsing. In terms of balancing intimate stories with spectacular battles in an old-school-sized epic, it's closer to Gladiator.

You've probably heard this movie made Brad Pitt give up cigarettes, but he's still smokin'! As the mercenary warrior Achilles, used by King Agamemnon (Brian Cox) to unite Greece through conquest, he works hard for the money, showing off his skills with sword and spear when he's not striking poses to be used as models for action figures.

Achilles is a diva who craves the spotlight and is obsessed with being remembered by future generations, even as he complains about the downside of celebrity. In other words, Pitt plays himself.

Agamemnon is a contradictory figure who advocates settling things "in the old way– your best fighter against my best"; but when he finds an excuse to attack Troy he wants to kill everyone, even though one of his stated purposes is being able to join Troy's army with Greece's.

Likewise, Troy tries to double its box office potential by appealing to pro- and anti-war viewers. "Imagine a king who fights his own battles– wouldn't that be a sight!" Achilles says wryly. Later Agamemnon sneers, "Peace is for the women and the weak." I think it's Odysseus (Sean Bean), "the one man (Achilles) will listen to," who says, "War is young men dying and old men talking."

The event that gets everyone talking is Paris (Orlando Bloom), a prince of Troy, stealing Helen (Diane Kruger), wife of Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), King of Sparta and brother of Agamemnon, before the ink dries on their peace treaty.

Paris, who has never been in battle, takes refuge behind his warrior brother Hector (Eric Bana), as they sail home to their father, King Priam (Peter O'Toole), behind the impenetrable walls of Troy.

Menelaus has his brother attack Troy with the full army of Greece, the legendary "thousand ships" worth. While the other 999 sit at anchor, Achilles takes the beach with his elite force of 50 men. When he makes his battle-eager young cousin Patroclus (Garrett Hedlund) wait in the boat, we know the youth will taste combat later.

The fight this is all building toward is between Achilles and Hector, but the half-hour that follows it is hardly anticlimactic. This is where the famous "Trojan horse" comes in, actually a Greek horse used to sneak troops into Troy.

Those who enjoy war as a spectator sport will be sated by the conflicts in Troy. Unlike Gladiator, you can't tell where the real people leave off and the CG people begin. You may not believe there are 50,000 Greeks and 30,000 Trojans, but it certainly looks like a respectable crowd.

Technology freaks will appreciate the Trojans inventing great balls of fire and the Greeks lining up pointy sticks in the sand, which will cause severe tire damage as soon as tires are invented.

War movies are young men dying and old men acting. While Pitt, Bana, and Bloom are fine, Achilles' key line is, "We will never be lovelier than we are right now." Pitt and Bloom pose tastefully naked, nothing beyond network television limits, with various women, while the other men are always covered in armor.

The all-American Pitt and all-Australian Bana blend vocally with their British co-stars because everyone knows the ancient Greeks spoke with upper-class English accents.

O'Toole complained when he was awarded an honorary Oscar that he still hoped to win one in competition. This might have been his chance, but if anyone wins an acting award for Troy it should be Brian Cox. There is, however, a wonderful close-up of O'Toole, blue eyes glowing and smile slowly breaking, as Hector and Paris make their triumphal entry into Troy. This shot will definitely be used in his obituaries– let's hope not soon.

Director Wolfgang Petersen continues to vary his output with good results in most of the genres he attempts. If he has an Achilles heel, Troy doesn't get close to it.