Hero | Vanity Fair

Hero | Vanity Fair

The Chinese movie epic, Hero, is more than spectacular; it is elemental. Watching it, I felt regret that Wolfgang Petersen had landed the job of directing Troy, though I respect Peterrsen’s craftsmanship and like most of his film. But if anybody is ever going to put The Iliad or The Odyssey on screen in true Homeric style, it will have to be Zhang Yimou, director of Raise the Red Lantern, Shanghai Triad, and now Hero. This is a filmmaker who does with the camera what Homer did with words: he portrays men and women not as “personalities” but as human forces coexisting with inhuman forces-wind, water, air, animals, earth. When, in The Iliad, Achilles drives the Trojans into the sea and then battles the sea itself, we gasp, but what current Western moviemaker could put such a moment on film? Eighty years ago, a D. W. Griffith or a Sergei Eisenstein might have succeeded, but after decades of increasingly domesticated and refined realism, the pores on a handsome actor’s face are treated by our cameras with greater awe than is shown to sun or tides or sky. Oh, we have a surfeit of films that prop up love stories with pretty backdrops and, for disaster and action movies, computer generated images slash flame and firepower across the screen while the theater loudspeakers roar us into submission. Since we know all too well where the acting leaves off and the machines take over, this breeds an aesthetic cynicism within us even...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.