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Troy (2004)

R · 163 minutes

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Written by Homer & David Benioff

 · Julian Glover
 · Brian Cox
 · Brad Pitt
 · Brendan Gleeson
 · Eric Bana
 · Orlando Bloom
 · Diane Kruger & Peter O\'Toole

Review by Motion Pictures (Brian Johnson)

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, and beware of German directors bearing films: One takes your city, the other takes your money at the box office; both leave you nothing in return. Well, “nothing” is a bit harsh for Wolfgang Petersen’s latest effort, but it’s like getting food as a Christmas present: Once you’ve consumed it, the enjoyment ends there.

One would think the myths behind the battle over Troy would make a really good movie. A lot of sweeping, epic war scenes; political intrigue; and, if you’re into this sort of thing, a bunch of semi-naked hunks running around. Specifically, Orlando Bloom for the teen chicks, Brad Pitt for the lonely housewives, and Eric Bana for anyone I left out. Personally, I saw more of any of those men than I ever wanted to see.

I cannot speak for how the film relates to the details assembled by ancient historians, so I shall speak of the film alone, which plays like a soap opera dropped in the middle of ancient Greece. Achilles (Brad Pitt) is a morose, melancholic warrior, tired of being ordered around by King Agamemnon (Brian Cox). He wants his own fame, his own legendary status, a name to live on after him into eternity.

Agamemnon and his army are on a quest to subjugate all the separate city-states of Greece under one ruler. He has been tremendously successful so far, needing only Troy. His brother Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) is attempting to woo Troy’s fealty through peaceful talks with princes Hector (Eric Bana) and Paris (Orlando Bloom). Those talks have a slight break-down when Paris seduces Menelaus’ wife and queen, Helen (Diane Kruger), away from him. The pursuit back to Troy is on, and the Trojan War erupts. I did not have time to verify that a thousand ships were in the fleet, however.

The rather long second act of the film involves Achilles leading the pack into the fray on the beaches of Troy and taking a vestal virgin from the temple as a hostage, in fact saving her life from the brutality of his fellow warriors. He falls in love with her, she falls in love with him, and somewhere in there his famous heel comes into play, but I won’t spoil it.

Meanwhile, Hector prepares to defend the city, Paris tries his hand at a one-on-one competition for Helen’s hand, their father Priam (Peter O’Toole) sits around looking nervous, and arrows fly back and forth.




Critics have positively savaged the film, but I would like to start by saying it’s not all that bad for what it’s worth, being a piece of summer escapism. As something to sit and be amused by for a couple of hours, it generally succeeds, at least for me. I felt amused. There you have it. But it is true that the film is flawed, occasionally boring, largely uninspired, and generally not worth a second ticket. So what went wrong? It’s hard to say, really.

For me, the biggest detractor was the lack of a real hero. I’m assuming Achilles is our “Main Hero” since Brad Pitt looms across the movie poster and his name is the headliner. But for a protagonist, he does little if nothing at all to enlist our sympathies, our interest, or our admiration. Sure, he’s a supernaturally gifted warrior, but he’s cold, heartless, uninterested, lifeless, droll, moping... The list goes on. I suppose we’re meant to have our hearts cheered by the transformation Achilles undergoes upon taking the vestal virgin (Rose Byrne) back to his tent. The man who once would have raped her without question instead cleans her wounds and treats her gently. She softens to her captor, seeing past all the dirt and sweat and finding a heart, I guess. Whatever she sees in him, they end up in a passionate embrace (happens all the time between brutal rapist captors and their victims!), and Achilles has found something worth living for. Well, okay.

Paris can hardly count as the story’s hero. He commits adultery and then encourages Helen to run away from her husband and live with him. Both of them falsely call what they feel for each other “Love.” True love would have respected the marriage bond.

The closest one to being a halfway noble character was Hector. Unfortunately, he is willing to shelter Paris’ indiscretion and sacrifice thousands of Grecian lives for it. So he misses the mark, too. But at least he tries to do something brotherly instead of being wholly self-absorbed like Paris.

The battle scenes are played out by rote.  There is nothing wrong with their execution, from a cinematic standpoint; but they are simply the same battle images we have seen again and again, from the relatively recent Gladiator all the way back to Spartacus and beyond.  (The images have just gotten bloodier, that's all.)

In fact, starting with Gladiator, we have entered a rut with these kinds of film.  They open with slow, dramatic, exotic rumblings on foreign instruments as titles fill us in on eons of history that are needed to explain the current situation.  There is an opening battle that demonstrates the hero's mettle to the audience.  At some point, the hero will be reluctant to enter the fray until the death of a close companion, be it family or friend.  And so on.  Every genre has a hiatus period, and I think it's time for the Epic Battle movies to take theirs until someone can find something original to do.




The ignoble storyline and lifeless storytelling are not really helped by any of the technical aspects. I have mentioned that the battle scenes are ably executed but uninspired. The same is true for the whole film: The political scenes are well acted, the love scenes are steamy. But none of it rises above anything that has come before.  It’s like when some new actor wants to try his hand at Hamlet or Othello even though these productions have been put on a million times; I’m guessing Petersen, Pitt, Bana, Bloom, O’Toole, and the others involved saw an opportunity to work in a genre they’ve “always wanted to try,” even though there was no call for it.

There was one, count it, one scene that caught my attention with its visuals. I won’t spoil it, but it involves giant flaming balls of rope, which looks quite cool and which isn’t as silly as it sounds in writing.

Since it’s the Trojan War, you know the Trojan Horse is going to figure into it; I am hardly spoiling anything here. And one neat shot shows the horse resting in the Trojan courtyard late at night, still, silent – and suddenly dispensing warriors from its interior. But one of the screenplay’s biggest faults is the shameless way it brings the horse into the story. A hopeless Odysseus (Sean Bean) sits by the campfire determined to find a way into Troy’s impenetrable walls. Next to him, a fellow warrior chisels a little horse out of wood to give to his son one day. A light goes on in Odysseus’ brain, and he engineers the construction of a hollow wooden horse to hide in.

Usually a solution to a problem is based on a related inspiration, as in Master and Commander’s use of an insect’s self-defense mechanism. So would it not have made more sense to have Odysseus watching someone hollow something out? And hide something in it? For all the lame dialogue and lifeless action, this had to be the worst moment of the film, a complete lapse in screenwriter David Benioff’s mental capacities as he was typing away.



Well, I started by accusing critics of savaging the film, and I have pretty much done the same. I will repeat my assessment that the film is not actually all that horrible. It is entertainment, and it is entertaining. It was created by a capable cast and crew, from photography to costuming to sets to the music score.

Like Achilles, Troy has fatal weaknesses. But while Achilles did achieve a notoriety that has survived millenia, this film will have faded from man's memory as early as next year.

1353 Words · Published: 2 June 2005

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