Byline: By ROB DRISCOLL
At 40, Brad Pitt's days as Hollywood's hottest hunk might be numbered. But, asks ROB DRISCOLL, is Troy the film to seal his status? IT'S this summer's biggest and most expensive blockbuster, and it's Brad Pitt's biggest career gamble yet - just two reasons why Troy simply has to clean up at the world-wide box office.
Chances are that this awesome pounds 145m sword-and-sandal extravaganza based on Homer's iconic poem The Iliad will do just that, as, having seen a sneak preview of the film this week, I can confidently predict that audiences will be suitably gobsmacked by this lavish return to the classic Hollywood epic, effortlessly combining A-list ensemble acting with state-of-the-art, 21st-century computer-generated imagery that betters even that of Gladiator.
At the heart of the movie's expected success will be 40-year-old Pitt's performance as the world's greatest and most fearless fighter, Achilles, who as all good students of ancient Greek mythology will remember, led an army of 50,000 men to invade and conquer the city of Troy - the culmination of a war between two civilisations after the abduction of the Greek Queen, Helen, by Paris, Prince of Troy.
Pitt's salary for the male lead role of the year is a reported $17.5m (pounds 10m). But for director Wolfgang Petersen, the German genius behind the World War II submarine classic Das Boot and Hollywood blockbusters The Perfect Storm and Air Force One, there was no question about who he wanted to play Achilles, one of classical literature's greatest examples of male perfection.
'It makes a lot of sense to have a big superstar like Brad Pitt for Achilles, because Achilles was definitely a superstar, like a pop star, in his time," says Petersen.
'So it is completely right to cast a huge star of our time - especially with a beautiful man like Brad, because Achilles was known by all as such an attractive, wonderful-looking man."
Nevertheless, as he enters middle age, Pitt is arguably at a crucial career crossroads, and Troy's fortunes will probably determine his standing as a top-of-the-range Hollywood commodity, and whether his talent can outlast the looks that made him.
No longer the hot-to-trot hunk who swaggered into female consciousness 13 years ago as the cute cowboy dude of Thelma and Louise, he is an established big-screen star who has to make his choices wisely and carefully if he wishes to retain the respect of his peers.
Meanwhile, his wife, Jennifer Aniston, has proved there's big-screen, post-Friends life in the girl yet, thanks to a very satisfactory world-wide performance by this year's offbeat romantic comedy hit Along Came Polly.
But don't assume she's about to become the couple's main breadwinner just yet.
As a movie project, Troy clearly differs from most of Pitt's previous big-screen projects - even the most recent ones. Never before have any of his films had to lean quite so heavily on his shoulders for its chances of box-office success. The challenging, controversial and exceedingly cerebral Fight Club definitely garnered huge publicity, but in the end it was more an art-house outing for the chattering classes, while fluffy multiplex fare like Ocean's Eleven relies more on effortless ensemble camaraderie and slick Rat Pack one-liner banter.
Troy, certainly, is an ensemble cast movie - but all eyes will be on our Brad. Luckily, this film proves he can cut the mustard as an old-Hollywood style icon: like Charlton Heston, Robert Redford and Harrison Ford before him, Pitt seems to be improving with age: in looks, in gravitas, in skill and in screen presence.
And as the years continue their steady march, now more than ever he needs to be seen as a solid, bankable asset. After all, the careers of some of his contemporaries - Robert Downey Jr, John Cusack, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Val Kilmer, for example …