Director : Wolfgang Petersen
Screenplay : David Benioff (inspired by Homer's The Iliad)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2004
Stars : Brad Pitt (Achilles), Eric Bana (Hector), Orlando Bloom (Paris), Peter O'Toole (Priam), Brian Cox (Agamemnon), Brendan Gleeson (Menelaus), Diane Kruger (Helen), Garret Hedlund (Patroclus), Rose Byrne (Briseis), Sean Bean (Odysseus), Julie Christie (Thetis)
Wolfgang Petersen's Troy is a serious, big-budget take on the ancient Greek myth spun in Homer's The Iliad, but there's really only one thing we can say about it for sure: Everyone looks really good. While the unstated purpose of the film is to humanize the larger-than-life icons of Homer's mythical tale of the battle between the fiercely independent Trojans and the world-conquering Greeks, that intent is somewhat undermined by the fact that most of the characters resemble gleaming supermodels in fashionable armor. Of course, beauty was always a part of the myth of the Trojan War-it was Helen's gorgeous visage, after all, that supposedly launched a thousand ships-but the film's insistence on its shiny star power is very nearly distracting, marking the film as a throwback to the old Hollywood sword-and-sandal epics of the 1950s, but with more blood.
Thus, central to Troy is Achilles, the film's most physically attractive character, played by Brad Pitt as both buff and tortured. Achilles is a rouge warrior who fights for King Agamemnon (Brian Cox) even though he despises him; Achilles fights not out of loyalty to his nation, but because he wants to be immortal. Nevertheless, Achilles and his band of loyal warriors are tapped by Agamemnon to fight alongside his brother, King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) of Sparta, after the Trojan prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) absconds with Menelaus' wife, Helen (newcomer Diane Kruger). Thus, the thousand ships are launched in all their digital glory and we are treated to numerous battles in the sand while the various character struggle internally over their role in the war.
Paris is wracked with guilt over the fact that thousands are fighting and dying because he took another man's wife. It doesn't help that Paris is essentially a coward-more lover than fighter-and it is his older brother, Hector (Eric Bana), who ends up doing most of the fighting for him. Hector, meanwhile, has his own psychological older-brother baggage to deal with, although he is presented as the most conventionally heroic and uncomplicated character in the film. The various kings range from being ego-inflated conquerors (Agamemnon), to brutish bullies (Menelaus), to soft-spoken and introspective father figures (Peter O'Toole's King Priam of Troy).
Troy made headlines for its troubled production and overextended budget long before its theatrical debut. The movie doesn't look nearly as expensive as it was, but this is mostly because Wolfgang Petersen actually displays some restraint in deploying digital special effects. Yes, there is the requisite jaw-dropping shot of the ocean filled with the infamous thousand ships and there are sweeping long shots of massive digital armies battling each other, but it's never overdone. In fact, Petersen largely eschews digital trickery in the battle scenes, relying instead on keeping the camera close to the action, which results in a more gritty and gory, if sometimes confusing, depiction of ancient hand-to-hand combat.
David Benioff's screenplay is credited as being "inspired" by Homer's The Iliad, and it takes more than a few liberties in streamlining the jumbled source material, a necessary move when one wants to convey something that took place over a decade and make it look like to took two weeks. Of particular interests is Benioff's decision to jettison the involvement of the gods. This, of course, completely alters the fundamental structure of the story; rather than the action being affected by the intervention of conflicting deities with their own agendas, it becomes a fully human affair defined by the individual characters' psychologies and conflicting politics. It's not hard to see why Benioff would do this; not only does it humanize the story, but depictions of Greek gods always wind up with old men in white togas walking around a cheesy set pontificating. Amid its studied seriousness, Troy certainly has its moments of cheese, but that would have certainly been too much.
Copyright © 2004 James Kendrick
All images copyright © 2004 Warner Bros.