There’s nothing like seeing tens of thousands of advancing Greeks on the sandy shores of Troy to remind you that summer is here and that it’s time for a beach holiday somewhere hot. And there’s nothing like seeing thousands of Trojans preparing to battle this gargantuan army to remind you that the summer blockbuster season is upon us, bringing with it expensive and grandiose cinematic experiences. It’s a shame then, that aside from these truly awesome vistas of mass carnage, Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy feels a little flat.
“Inspired by” Homer’s ancient and epic tale The Iliad, and where possible, playing down the wonderfully homoerotic undertones that pepper most legends from the Hellenic world, the film thrusts us into the greedy world of Agamemnon (played with a delightfully large slice of ham on the side by Brian Cox), who is marching across the Mediterranean, uniting – sometimes by force – all the kings of Greece with the thinly-guised aim of total Club Med domination. His victories are, on the whole, a success due his employment of the reluctant Achilles, “The Greatest Warrior Who Ever Lived” (Brad Pitt) and his army of Myrmidons, or hired goons, to use the parlance of our time. Things kick off when Paris (Orlando Bloom) a simpering prince from the land of Troy (a particularly desirable patch of coastline real estate the other side of the Aegean Sea) pinches Queen Helen of Sparta, (Diane Kruger) right under the nose of her husband King Menelaos, (the wonderfully gruff Brendan Gleeson), brother to Agamemnon. And so to war, as the Greeks unite, sailing off to kick up a sandstorm against King Priam of Troy (a refreshingly restrained Peter O’Toole) and his army, led by the noble Hector (Eric Bana).
The main problem with this film is that the central story itself doesn’t really lend itself to a modern audience. The focus of The Iliad is Achilles and his constant inner turmoil; he loathes Agamemnon yet is compelled to follow his destiny and be “The Greatest Warrior Who Ever Lived” at the siege of Troy. Trouble is, the character of Achilles isn’t really very nice and while that needn’t be an issue in itself, the developments of the narrative elements that the script has drawn from the original source make it very difficult to find sympathy for his cause. Indeed, it is the quiet dignity of the Trojans, in particular King Priam and family man Hector that the audience warm towards. Agamemnon is portrayed as a merciless, spiteful tyrant who only craves power, which makes the inevitable fall of Troy and it’s gentile rulers a hard pill to swallow. Out of the Greeks, only the sage and level-headed Odysseus (a surprisingly good Sean Bean) comes across as being cut from the true hero cloth.
In the time of Homer, love and the whimsy of the gods would be understood as a just cause for a whole nation to go to war, whereas now this would probably be sneered at by a modern audience and so practically all interference from divine powers, so instrumental in all Greek tales, have been removed (except for Julie Christie’s fleeting appearance as Achilles divine mother Thetis). It doesn’t help matters that Kruger’s performance as Helen is so insipid and so you can’t imagine anyone crossing the street for her, let alone the Aegean.
The battle scenes are impressive, but you get the feeling that you’ve already seen this kind of monumental scrap done with more finesse in Return Of The King or Gladiator. Incidentally, Russell Crowe would have made a far more convincing Achilles than Pitt, had it not been for his now legendary performance as Maximus, which is too similar a character to the great Greek hero for the curmudgeonly kiwi to seem fresh in the role. In Troy, Pitt may be physically impressive in the combat scenes, but he is just too pretty and gives a one-dimensional performance; for the entire film he either squints at us or off into the distance, as if to tell us that somewhere, somehow, he must go to the toilet. He lacks the fire in his piggy eyes that made Crowe’s fallen general so believable.
That said, the film does entertain. Like Pitt, it is pretty to look at. There are some good performances to be enjoyed and the duel between Achilles and Hector is a thrilling, emotionally charged highlight. However, it lacks the style that directors like Ridley Scott or Peter Jackson have brought to this kind of film and Troy doesn’t quite gel as satisfyingly as it should. It should be seen on the big screen but don’t expect to blown away. Now The Odyssey on the other hand, with it’s fantastical creatures and a true hero at it’s core, would be a more interesting film to see, and the gods know that Sean Bean has been working hard as a supporting actor for so long now and – if his performances as Boromir and now Odysseus is anything to go by – he has matured as an actor to the extent that he finally deserves his own film! But those deities are as fickle as your average moviegoer, so you never know…
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