'Troy' rolls out the horse, the hunks and several actors who steal the show

For a movie whose characters talk constantly of immortality, Wolfgang Petersen's "Troy" remains strangely earthbound — it's spectacle without poetry, rarely transcending its bustling plot to touch the heart or stir the imagination. But that spectacle is often glorious, and as summer-movie entertainment, "Troy" delivers the Trojan horse, and then some.

Chief among the sights on display is the buffed, bronze body of Brad Pitt, who looks as if he's just emerged from some ancient Greek full-service spa. As legendary warrior Achilles, he's a Technicolor god — all blue eyes, sun-blond hair, pink lips and toffee skin — and he strolls through the movie with scant costuming and nary a smile.

Pitt, an actor of playful charm (watch the fun he has in "Ocean's Eleven" or "Spy Game"), here plays a man shut down from emotion. It's a logical interpretation of the role — surely Achilles couldn't be the killer he's become without icing over his heart — but Pitt's stoic, restrained performance can't quite hold our interest for the film's 2 hours and 45 minutes. Luckily, his physique can (and Petersen shows us as much of it as possible, without earning an NC-17 rating) — or, if you like more than beefcake with your popcorn, several of the film's other actors can easily steal your gaze.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer

"Troy," with Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Diane Kruger, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Brendan Gleeson, Peter O'Toole. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen, from a screenplay by David Benioff. 165 minutes. Rated R for graphic violence and some sexuality/nudity. Several theaters.

Peter O'Toole, eyes ghostly pale and white hair flowing, does a marvelous old-lion turn as the elderly King Priam, father of Hector (Eric Bana) and Paris (Orlando Bloom), whose dalliance with the beautiful Helen of Troy (Diane Kruger, flat-voiced but exquisite) sparks war. In one late-night scene in Achilles' tent, as Priam asks a favor of his bitter enemy, you can see O'Toole teaching a master class in scene-stealing. "Do you think death frightens me now?" he asks quietly, his eyes glowing in his suddenly ravaged face, and it's impossible to look away from him.

Brian Cox, as the greedy Mycenaean king Agamemnon, so impeccably conveys burning ambition that you can practically see smoke rising from him. Bloom brings a just-right note of youthful uncertainty to Paris, a passionate lover but a fearful would-be warrior. And though Bana may not look like a warrior prince, his Hector shows unexpected fire along with levelheaded, older-brother courage.

Brad Pitt as Achilles in "Troy."
These actors keep "Troy" engaging between the many battle scenes that make up the plot, inspired by Homer's "Iliad," but with much creative license by screenwriter David Benioff. (Not to worry — you don't need to remember any Homer to follow the story. Just read the introductory notes on screen carefully.) Petersen keeps the spectacle varied and exciting — some of the battles are small, such as an early one between Achilles and an enormous but doomed opponent; others are massive. Though there's a slight blurriness to the biggest scenes that hints at CGI enhancement, it's still astonishing to see two vast armies marching on each other in the desert, like two opposing, unstoppable tides.

The Trojan horse, boiling over with soldiers, has a real grandeur to it — especially as director of photography Roger Pratt swoops into the sky to give us a horseback view. And there's a beautiful shot, captured in gray pre-dawn light, of a seemingly unending line of soldiers along the Trojan shore, guarding their empire.

Ultimately "Troy" doesn't resonate as anything more than a skillfully made, big-budget epic — perhaps it's the shameless prettification of Pitt; perhaps it's all that talk about eternity, rather than showing us why it matters. But Petersen does, at the end, find a nice metaphor for his much-told story of war, love and immortality: A flame flickers against a dark sky, turning to smoke as it rises, and finally disappearing into the quiet air.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com