director: Wolfgang Petersen
starring: Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Peter O’Toole
running time: 165 mins
Loosely based on Homer’s Illiad, the intended appeal of Peterson’s film is clear from the cast of tanned, toned male leads. Resplendent with armies of impressive proportions and a decently (as in good, certainly not modest!) designed classical costumes and armour, visually Troy is certainly satisfying. However, as yet another film that openly attempts to earn the title of “epic”, it often struggles to reach the status it believes it holds.
Much liberty has been taken with the source material, although the basic story remains. Lovestruck Trojan Prince Paris [Orlando Bloom] steals away the Spartan Queen Helen [Diane Kruger] at a peace summit. Dismaying his noble brother Hector [Eric Bana], and enraging the Spartan King Menelaus [Brendan Gleeson], Paris’ childish and thoughtless actions spark off this legendry war between the kingdoms of Troy and Sparta, as Menelaus sends a vast armada including the reknowned hero Achilles [Brad Pitt].
The most notable change is the removal of the constant intervention of the Olmypian gods in this tale. This decision to remove the mythological element in its entirity is jarring at first, but still a valid one as it opens up the humanity of the characters. We still see crucial things such as the temple of Apollo, Achilles’ armour, his mother Thetis, and his death through a wound to the heel. Yet the significance of these elements may only be apparent to those already familiar with the story.
Peterson importantly does not take sides in his portrayal of each side. Whilst individual characters are often rather one-dimensional, the armies as a whole are given depth. Menelaus is a clear war-monger (with an interestingly Bush-esque rant at one point) while Achilles is here not for the fight but rather seeking glory in a materialistic sense. Meanwhile the Trojan side is split between Paris’ selfishness and his brother’s clear nobility. The only truly noble characters would be Hector and his father, King Priam of Troy [Peter O’Toole].
The numerous skirmishes and battles outside Troy are neatly choreographed but generally lack a real sense of energy. The first shots of the computer-generated armada are breathtaking, but large-scale CG battles of this sort have been seen before. This is never as compelling as the comparable fights in the recent third installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The individual duels are far more engaging, however, especially those involving Achilles. Pitt trained with swordsman named Steven Ho and the resulting efficiently minimalist, elegantly calculated swordplay is a joy to watch, and the antithesis of overblown kung-fu showdowns. The problem, however, is that we have the occassional bizarrely unrealistic moments as clashing armies pauses mid-battle to become an impromptu specatating crowd for a fight between two leads. Further, the pace does drag once the armies breach the city, as the battle is pretty much over.
There are some great performances here, notably Bana as the noble but troubled Hector and O’Toole’s grave Priam. Sean Bean makes a delightful appearance as the likably roguish Odysseus, and Pitt does display much of Achilles angsty arrogance in his hunt for eternal glory. Unfortunately his role is marred by a camera that attempts to capture far more of his body than talent. The writers’ attempt to “humanise” him through a newly added romance with Brisies is largely unconvincing. Further problems rise with Bloom who really has yet to turn in a solid dramatic performance, and here he seems rather too much of a whinging coward for us to understand why Helen would leave with him in the first place (put simply, his performance lacks the balance breadth of the others). Kruger adds little to Helen, but one supposes her role is essentially just to look pretty which she does well enough, if not in any striking way.
Troy is both energetic and engaging to watch, but while capturing such an epic battle may require its duration of 165 minutes, it varies widely in its ability to maintain the audience’s interest as many sequences stumble to TV-historic-drama level, while the battle scenes are often tired and lacking in any real originality. It never truly feels as epic as it tries to suggest, and in part the choice to remove the mythological aspect was a double-edged sword as it also removes the wider notions of destiny guiding the lives of these men and armies. However, the highlights are certainly worth the effort, with some genuinely impressive performances, costumes and, above all, the uniquely ruthless swordplay of Pitt’s Achilles.