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Troy (2004)

director: Wolfgang Petersen
starring: Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Peter O’Toole
running time: 165 mins
rating: 15

TroyLoosely 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.

The Trojan HorsePeterson 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.

Hector and ParisThere 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.

rating: 2/4

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

director: Gore Verbinski
starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Pryce
running time: 143 mins
rating: 12

“This is the day you will always remember as the day you almost caught Captain Jack Sparrow!”

Jack Sparrow

Quite frankly I was horrified at the though of Disney cashing in by taking a genre  that has already been done to death (worse still, a theme park ride), and just pouring a massive budget into a movie. Well, I’m now quite happy to swallow down every bad word and thought I previously held regarding Pirates as the film that restored my faith in over-the-top blockbusters after a disastrous summer of cinema. While the story itself is all good-natured fun, it is undeniably Depp’s incredible charismatic performance that both steals the show and raises the film to a different level.

Jack Sparrow [Johnny Depp] is a roguish scoundral arrested for his lifelong series of crimes and threatened with execution. But after another band of plundering pirates ransack the town and kidnap the governor’s beautiful daughter Elizabeth [Keira Knightley], Jack finds himself liberated by his former captor, apprentice blacksmith Will Turner [Orlando Bloom] who needs Sparrow’s help to steal a ship and rescue his true loveā€¦

Verbinski’s direction always oozes atmosphere, genuinely creepy in parts but deftly lightening the tone with humour that keeps the film suitable for children, although not the very youngest. This atmosphere is hugely assisted by the film’s memorable soundtrack and beautiful cinematography, and of course the occassional snippets from the ride’s anthem, “Yo ho! Yo ho! A pirate’s life for me!”

The acting is all up to par, although some performances are certainly more noteworthy than others. Orlando Bloom’s hero wins over the audience to begin with, but is never terribly charismatic, especially since he is so often placed alongside Depp. Meanwhile Keira Knightly looks suitably stunning, but rather than smouldering in her role, her love for Will Turner is so rigidly and reservedly portrayed that it is never really believable that he would go through such peril for her. That said, her strange scene on the island with Sparrow does change our previous perception as she loosens up. Geoffrey Rush overplays his role as pirate captain with relish and produces and astoundingly intimidating performance.

But of course the star is always Depp’s Jack Sparrow. Whether he’s the swashbuckling action hero or stepping off a sinking ship (one of the finest character entrances I can remember) it is impossible not to love him. He embraces the role so fully that even when just walking he makes the role entirely his own (as my cousin tactfully pointed out, only Depp could walk quite like that without coming off as gay!). If anything he’s almost too good, as even in the opening when we should side with Turner, we never really want Jack to get caught. An impossible-to-dislike anti-hero, it’s Sparrow who always keeps things interesting. “I’ll die for her!” proclaims straight-laced hero Turner; “Oh good!” responds Jack with a wicked grin.

The special effects are of a high quality throughout, especially the very fluidly animated skeletons (will avoid giving too much away here) that appear just as the story seems to become dull. However, they never really feel groundbreaking in the same way as Gollum last year, but then in comparison to this summer’s Hulk, there’s no comparison. They manage to be suitably scary without becoming too comically cartoonish.

Pirates does fail perhaps from being a touch overlong. The pace does begin to drag in the final third, although it has a tidy conclusion. Largely it is the fighting sequences that eventually become a let-down, because although they are adequately choreographed, once it becomes apparent that the pirates will not die, any efforts to battle them seems a rather pointless affair and takes the tension out of these sequences since we know how they must inevitably end. Nonetheless, there are some impressive displays of cinematic swordfighting, especially the duel between Turner and Sparrow early on.

Extravagant and sweeping, Pirates of the Caribbean is an astounding success, and nearly fulfills everything it sets out to do, falling just a little short in its tedious swordfights towards the end, its pace beginning to drag. With good performances, and beautiful cinematography it was set to be a good movie. With Depp’s sparklingly inventive performance it became a great one.

rating: 3.5/4

"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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