Cinema Signal:

Helen of Troy
The 2003 production
on DVD

The Aeneid
by Vergil
Read the original on the Trojan Horse and the death of Hector

. "Troy"

This version of Greece's war against Troy is derived from Homer's epic poem, "The Iliad," and Vergil's "Aeneid," the latter work commissioned by Caesar himself! It recounts the exploits of warrior heroes seeking revenge for the loss of a woman considered to be the most beautiful of ancient Greece. The events were of sufficient interest to be of consequence to the Greek gods! Or so the poets imagined. Was this war a plaything of the gods or was that a concept to glorify and heighten the consequences?

Director Wolfgang Peterson and screenwriter David Benioff compressed the time line of the war down from 10 years to a couple of weeks, giving us a more intense framework for action filled engagements.

Sparking the saga is the love-at-first-sight romance between Helen, Queen of Sparta, married to uncouth Greek general Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), and Trojan Paris (Orlando Bloom) who is as idyllically handsome as she is beautiful. The fateful meeting takes place during a peacemaking visit of the Trojans, led by Paris' brother and great general, Hector (Eric Bana). As traditional enemies, peacemaking between them is of more than passing importance.

All the more ironic, then, that the meeting to commemorate peace leads to the greatest hostility they've ever known. While Helen's discontent in her marriage has brought her close to suicide, discovery of her new love makes the thought of continuing it one of unendurable despair. When Paris asks her to join him on his return to Troy, she does, and she's welcomed there by King Priam, Hector and Paris' father.

King Agamemnon (Brian Cox) is outraged on behalf of the cuckolded Menelaus and sees war as the only means by which to avenge the insult and return Helen to Sparta. He brings all the Greek armies into one grand alliance and crosses the seas with a fleet of 1,000 ships and burning rage. Once on this path, the seeking of Helen turns into something bigger, conquest. He wishes to rule King Priam's inpenetrable Troy.

Achilles (Brad Pitt), the most fearless and invincible warrior of the time, reluctantly joins Agamemnon, bringing his platoon of Mymidons. But, because of his disrespect for the Greek king's objectives and methods, he very much does his own thing, starting with a beach assault before any of the other Greek ships make landfall or anchor. In doing so, he establishes a beachhead, disgraces a statue of the sun god Apollo, and enrages Agamemnon, though not for the first time.

Into the fray comes Hector, meeting up with the indomitable Achilles for a first encounter. The fates will have them meet in combat again.

There is a tremendous challenge in attempting to capture the grand scale of the Greeks' siege of Troy as related by Homer. This one, at a budget of $175M develops interesting character depth and maintains clarity in the motivations of the factions involved, to the point that it envelops you with its collisions of mass power and the mortal combat of individuals. The appearance of large armies massing against each other, the clash of steel and armor, are impressive. But the lasting impression comes from the complexities and motivations of the individuals caught up in a drive to defend their land against those seeking power or immortality.

It is also a tale of morality, with war being waged along an accepted code of conduct. The picture documents with revealing detail, for example, the funeral honors afforded the dead. The principals are shown high on a wooden pyre, being sent to the afterlife, but not before a pair of coins are carefully placed on their eyelids so as to provide fare for the "boatman" who will ferry them to the spirit world. Most interestingly, Priam, who may be considered the "good" king while Agamemnon is clearly the bad one, after the Greeks lose the attack on the first day and leave hundreds of dead warriors strewn on the grounds outside his city's walls, offers Agamemnon an opportunity to collect the bodies without harm. This affords him the moral position to plead, later, for a dead body of his own. Who says this is a version of the story without preserving serious issues derived from the original source?

Good production values enhance the rush to death and heroics, providing action with majesterial spectacle.

The fate of the picture rests heavily on the credibility of the cast and the characterizations in the writing. To prepare for this role, Brad Pitt developed impressive muscle size which, when combined with sharp action choreography and fearsome intent, makes his Achilles a gripping and charismatic presence. It's a modulated and engaging performance like none other in his sometimes overstretched repertoire and a serious effort to depict a mortal touched by the gods. Those who have been thinking of Pitt as a lightweight, get over it. This role puts him in the higher division and might even gain him some award consideration.

But, he's not the sympathetic center of the piece. That position would likely go, in an ensemble cast of heroic figures, to Eric Bana, who brings extraordinary conviction and impressive nobility to his role as son, elder brother, city protector, husband, father and martial tactician. He is as complex as all the roles he fulfills in the drama, fully nuanced in a rich portrait of a hero with controlled emotions and cool reason. Our involvement in the story rests heavily in our regard for his values, his awareness and his strength of character. This assured performance takes him beyond the inner turmoil of his "The Hulk."

The level of acting is uniformly high by a cast that includes Peter O'Toole (Priam), Saffron Burrows (Andromache), beefy Brendan Gleeson (Menelaus, husband to Helen), Brian Cox (Agamemnon), and a one-scene cameo by Julie Christie (Thetis, Achilles' mother).

The 160 minute running length makes one a bit battle weary, but action fans will glory in the swordplay, epic themes of battle and high minded heroics of the immortal Greeks of antiquity.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

The Soundtrack Album

Two-disk DVD

Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written
I'll read more by this reviewer
I disagree with the review
Rating: 8

I must agree with the reviewer to a point. Where I disagree is in Brad Pitt`s portrayal of Achilles. It was a good idea to make him seemingly immortal because of his expertise with a sword, but for the most part Brad Pitt`s lines were two dimentional and cheese ball. It was probably the most cliche and worst acting performance in the movie. But I have to agree with everything else about the review. You should have mentioned that Peter O`toole looks better now than he did ten years ago. But good job.

                                                      ~~ Mike N.
Very well written
This review will influence me to get my local newspaper to hire this reviewer
Site rating: 10

Actually this movie has the best of the best of the best i have ever seen sice i was born. it has the reality the immortallity the liveness,,,,,

                                                      ~~ Yousuf
Very well written
This review will influence me to read more by this reviewer
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
Site rating: 1
                                                      ~~ atif

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Eric Bana and Brad Pitt
Hector and Achilles, facing off in mortal combat

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The Iliad
by Homer
A translation from the original that sets a new standard

Helen of Troy
The 2003 production
on DVD