(Wolfgang Petersen, 2004)
Review by Lunacy, (c) 2004
Beware: Spoilers may be in the review
Excellent, excellent movie - will probably prove to be one of the best of the year. I went in expecting spectacle but thinking that perhaps the script and the acting would probably just be ok. I was pleasantly surprised to end up finding them all excellent. First - the spectacle. This is a BIG movie alla LORD OF THE RINGS. It doesn't use special effects for any fantasy elements but no doubt those battle scenes achieve epic proportions through computer animation. For those of you XENA fans out there who like me might have been disappointed by the anemic battle scenes possible in a TV show - TROY will be quite satisfying. The armies are HUGE and look very real. The clashes are violent and bloody and make you feel sorry for the men who lived during this time in history and engaged in this type of warfare.
I was very pleased with the "look" of the film - everything looks very authentic. These look like people who lived during the bronze age - the cities look like ones that could have existed at this time - the armor is a mixture of leather and metal and fabric rather than those super shinny thick metal breastplates Hollywood has given us in other movies about this ancient period. The barges the Greeks sail in look like the type of ships they probably had - small, with minimum comfort, not much decoration. Their every day wear are simple robes or pieces of cloth tied around their waists. The shields soldiers use tend to be wooden and easily penetrated. Overall the movie achieves a very realistic look while still giving the dwellings and the clothing of the kings and rulers an added splendor.
Now - on to the acting - I heard a reviewer mention that the acting by the older actors was very good while that of the younger actors did not stood out as much. I have to disagree. I think the cast was uniformly excellent. Peter O'Toole in the role of Priam - King of Troy - definitely stands out. I think he should probably get a best supporting nod from Oscar. I don't think there was a dry eye in the theatre I was in during the scene where he goes to beg Achilles to return the body of his son to him. Brian Cox as the power-hungry, ruthless Agamemnon is perfect. There are a number of actors you'll recognize from other big epic films - particularly BRAVEHEART - at least two of the character actors who played Scottish rebels in that are in TROY and do a terrific job in their respective roles. As to the younger cast members - I was pleasantly surprised. Eric Bana does an outstanding job with Hector making you feel terribly sympathetic toward this man caught in the middle who really just wants to grow old with his wife and son but ends up having to go to war due to the stupidities and ambitions of others. Time and again his hopes for that peaceful life are thwarted - first by a foolish younger brother who puts his desires above all else - later by the ambitions of a foreign king - after that by a father and king who though well-intentioned is ruled by the superstitions of his time and his people - after that by the unfortunate choices of another foolish young man - and finally by the thirst for revenge and desire for glory of a fellow warrior who sees him as another step toward that glory. Hector is hands down the most likeable and human of the characters - a man who sees the big picture but is too honorable to do anything but what is expected of him.
Orlando Bloom's Paris is DEFINITELY a departure from his Legolas character in LOTR. Here he plays a young man with very romantic and very unrealistic notions of the world who tries to make amends for BIG mistakes but ultimately lacks character and experience. He does a good job with a role that is difficult - essentially a teenager with a good heart but still immersed in the selfishness and idealistic notions of those years.
The biggest surprise for me was Brad Pitt. I liked Brad as the sexy cowboy in THELMA AND LOUISE and enjoyed his performance in SEVEN MONKEYS but other than that he hasn't really made much of an impression on me. When I heard he was going to play Achilles I had doubts about how that would come across since I had never pictured Achilles as a male model and that has been the general image Brad has evoked in me. When he first appears in TROY I again had doubts about the casting. He beefed up for the role to appear more warrior-like but the man is still much too pretty and still looks somewhat "slight" to be this fierce, mythical warrior. I have to say though - that on the strength of his performance it wasn't long before I was thoroughly "buying" him as the legendary Greek warrior. It's a difficult role to play and particularly a difficult role to turn into what a modern-day audience would consider a "hero". I read THE ILLIAD a long time ago in 6th grade but if I remember things correctly Achilles was all about ego and glory. Brad, thanks in part to the script but also I think to a solid performances, humanizes him somewhat. The ego is definitely there as is the thirst for glory and immortality but Achilles in this film is also a man trapped by the pressures of the world he lives in, the expectations of those around him. In this respect he's quite a bit like the man who turns out to be his enemy in the story - Hector. At a couple of points in the film Achilles aaaaalmost manages to break away from these pressures but as was the case with Pacino's character in the GODFATHER films - something always manages to pull him back into the war, the violence, the brutality.
The script takes considerable dramatic licenses with Homer's original story simplifying many of the characters and elements of the plots while beefing up others but overall it does a good job recreating the major themes. Curiously - it plays out as a considerably timely story given the current state of our world. It points out how in war often no one really wins and good people are made victims of the stupidities and ambitions of others. It cautions against poor leadership. At several points in the film I found myself wanting Odysseus (very intelligently played by Sean Bean - "Borromir" from LOTR) to take over the Greek forces and wanting Hector to convince his father and his father's priests to retire ;-)
The Olympian gods are mentioned but never appear in the film. Achilles mother was a minor goddess in Greek mythology and she does appear but the film does not give the impression that she's a goddess. I think avoiding the gods was a brilliant move in that it gives the film the feel of a historical epic and makes it much more of human story. Though I love Greek mythology I think the better XENA episodes tended to be those that remained strictly in the realm of mortals. TROY is similarly a stronger story by sticking with the humans. I was particularly impressed with how the script suggested how Achilles' immortality myth may have started, including the famous arrow shot to the heel, adding other much more deadly arrow wounds but in the end having only that one arrow in the foot still be in his body when the Greeks find him.
My one negative observation about the film is that I didn't find myself quite as entertained by it as I've been by films like GLADIATOR or LORD OF THE RINGS I think because the story of THE ILLIAD is so well-known - elements of it are so ingrained in our popular culture (Trojan horse, Achilles heel, etc.) - that I always pretty much knew what was going to happen in upcoming scenes. GLADIATOR was an original story while the LOTR films were based on a story which isn't quite as well known and much more massive so that which elements made it to the film and which didn't kept one intrigued. With TROY most of the major moments are predictable. Even people who've never read THE ILLIAD generally know that Troy and Greece go to war over Helen, that the Greeks will build a giant wooden horse - that Troy will fall - that the term "Achilles heel" comes from the story of the supposedly immortal Greek warrior who died from an arrow wound there. Still - despite being a familiar story - this film is an excellent version of Homer's epic - wonderfully entertaining and well worth the price of admission.
May 16, 2004