The biggest problem modern audiences will encounter with Wolfgang Petersen’s “Troy”, despite its lavish backdrop and elaborate action set pieces, is that the film is adapted from a poem dating back over 2,000 years. As a result, what might have made perfect sense back then doesn’t quite make the cut in 2004. Audience expectations are different, and this theatrical “Troy”, despite its mammoth budget and lengthy running time, will nevertheless leave many a moviegoer baffled.
“Troy” concerns Paris (Orlando Bloom), a Prince from Troy, who has come to Greece (specifically Sparta) to seal a peace between the two factions. Alas, oh Paris is a bit of a playboy, and before you know it he’s paying nightly visits to the room of Helen (Diane Kruger). Unfortunately for them, Helen just happens to be the unhappy wife of Spartan King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), who doesn’t take some young punk stealing his wife away with good humor.
Menelaus seeks help from his brother Agamemnon (Brian Cox), currently the undisputed King of the Greeks, as well as being one blowhard with ambitions beyond his ability to make them happen. Being that Agamemnon has always had an eye for Troy’s riches, he uses the theft of Helen as impetus to rally the Greeks in an all-out war against Troy. They send for Achilles (Brad Pitt), the greatest of the Greek warriors. Achilles agrees to fight, even though he has no stake in the matter and really can’t stand the sight of Agamemnon. To Achilles, it’s all about glory and getting poems written about him.
If the description so far sounds convoluted, that’s probably because this is the set-up for one of the longest poems in the history of man. Although the poems blend history, rumor, and good ol fashion fiction into a rousing story, the movie version has less than 3 hours to tell the tale. Benioff and Petersen try their best to cram as much as they can into the movie, but even then the film shortchanges a lot of major characters, including trickster Odysseus (Sean Bean), who shows up only for plot point purposes. Motivations also get a bit muddled, and as a result actions and events seem random in nature.
But as nothing more than a Summer Event film, “Troy” is a well-crafted, well-acted, and well-shot film. Although there’s probably too many CGI soldiers racing into each other; after seeing this ad nauseam in the “Lord of the Rings” movies, “Troy’s” scenes has the vibe of Johnny Come Lately about them. In any case, “Troy” has enough good action set pieces to justify the price of full admission. It’s definitely one of those movies that need to be seen on the big screen to appreciate. Not just for the wide-scale action, but also for the daily amassing of thousands of extras.
The highlights of the film are the one-on-one grudge matches between the characters, in particular the clash between a vengeful Achilles and a sorrowful Hector. Tell me that this 5-minute sequence didn’t take the two actors months to train for and choreographed. Although he’s using an accent that I still can’t pinpoint, Brad Pitt is entirely believable as Achilles, the world’s greatest warrior who nonetheless falls prey to his own vanity. Pitt is in top physical condition and sells Achilles so well during the physical parts of the movie that it’s hard to fault his odd accent. The way he moves, fights, and decimates his opponents are astounding.
If Achilles represents the Greeks with conviction, Eric Bana (“The Hulk”) is the Trojans’ heart and soul. Unlike Achilles, who fights for pride and infamy, Hector fights to save his family and nation, doing so under duty, and only duty. Bana’s performance is made doubly impressive because Orlando Bloom, sans Elfen ears and swashbuckling pirates, is really lost in the shuffle. Needless to say, watching Bloom and co-star Diane Kruger trying mightily to create chemistry is painful at best and wholly inadequate at worst.
If Bloom and Kruger fails miserably to ignite passion, the star-crossed love affair between Achilles and captured Trojan royalty Briseis (Rose Byrne) more than shoulders the film’s stab at romance. As the spirited Briseis, Rose Byrne (“I Capture the Castle”) gives an outstanding performance. Her fire and passion overcomes even the harden Achilles, who is willing to give up the war for her after a rough and tumble courtship. Whereas one never for an instant believed that Helen and Paris were in love, the spark between Achilles and Briseis is flammable.
“Troy” is a good spectacle film, even if it comes at a time when better movies have already tread these same grounds and made them perilous. In short, Peter Jackson’s three “Rings” films have effectively ruined the historical/fantasy epic for every filmmaker to follow. Without the existence of the “Rings” films, “Troy” would have been great. But since Frodo and company have already crossed our paths, “Troy” is just pretty good.
Wolfgang Petersen (director) / Homer (poem), David Benioff (screenplay)
CAST: Brian Cox …. Agamemnon
Brad Pitt …. Achilles
Brendan Gleeson …. Menelaus
Diane Kruger …. Helen
Eric Bana …. Hector
Orlando Bloom …. Paris
Sean Bean …. Odysseus
Peter O’Toole …. Priam
Rose Byrne …. Briseis