Wolfgang Petersen’s “Troy” tries to be a meritorious adaptation of Homer’s epic poem The Iliad, but turns out to be more of the usual okay summer-action-drama, leaving those expecting a true Homerian adventure featuring heroes and legends wanting.
The main story of this nearly three hour long saga is the telling of the great war between Troy and Sparta; two powerful nations once aligned until the Trojan prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) seduced Sparta’s very much married queen, Helen (a sallow Diane Kruger) during a peace mission.
When Helen's husband Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) finds out that Paris has smuggled his wife aboard a ship en route back to Troy, he calls on his brother Agamemnon (Brian Cox) to join him in what will be “the greatest war this world has ever seen” against the forces of Troy under the rule of King Priam (Peter O’Toole). Its soldiers, barricaded behind great walls that have never been breached, are prepared to fight knowing that Apollo, the Sun God, is on their side. A few mentions is as close as we get to the gods.
The army of Troy is led by the fierce general, Hector (Eric Bana), brother of Paris. At first he insists that Helen be returned back to Sparta, but when Paris refuses to let her go without a fight, Hector has no choice but to prepare for a war looming three days away.
But by this time the movie has already failed to take care of the necessary housekeeping. Believing this premise is a tough pill to swallow. Why would Helen leave her husband and invoke a war when she only spent a few nights with Paris? During the peace mission, when he enters her room she tells him that he shouldn’t be here. “What about last night?” he asks. “Last night was a mistake,” she tells him. “And the night before that?” Paris shoots back. “I’ve made many mistakes this week.” Not exactly head over heels for this prince. But a quick kiss, and, ah what the hell, let’s break for it.
And so the Greek armies prepare to board a thousand ships and set sail for Troy’s mainland. The greatest soldier in all of Greece’s armies is Achilles, played by an unconvincing Brad Pitt. Before joining Sparta and Mycenae in battle against the Trojans, he visits his mother, Thethis (Julie Christie), while she’s in a river collecting seashells. She tells him that he can stay and raise children who will love and remember him but one day die, or he can fight in the greatest war ever and have his name reprinted in the history books until the end of time. Faced with this difficult decision to make, Achilles stares pensively into the afternoon sky. I doubt Homer ever intended his Greek legends to also be philosophers.
The battles are great (though few and far between) and I liked how close cinematographer Roger Pratt brings his camera to the action. The showdown between Hector and Achilles is crisply choreographed as you can almost feel the clashing of swords and smashing of shields.
Top-notch special effects bring the nearly 100,000 soldiers on both sides to life, but when all of them are squeezed into one frame it becomes hard for us to follow. This is most noticeable during the taking of Troy after the city unwisely opens its doors to the wooden horse, effectively “inviting the wolves to dinner.” A final battle takes place, Orlando Bloom transforms back into Legolas, and Troy burns to the ground. But none of this is really exciting. Achilles does something one can only do in a CGI-assisted movie; seek out a particular individual amidst a smoldering city and fleeing civilians. And in the background somewhere is Legolas, I mean Paris, firing off his arrows at a crucial moment, because no film since “Blackhawk Down” can end on a low note for an Orlando Bloom character.
For all that happens, “Troy” lacks the emotional element present in the superior film, “Gladiator.” In that Academy Award winner, the characters fit their roles and were much more believable. In “Troy,” Pitt fails to dazzle us. Maybe someone forgot to tell him that Achilles is supposed to be the greatest warrior of all time, not a philosopher, teacher, or noble leader. And he does all of that well, especially in front of his cousin, Patroclus (Garrett Hedlund), an impatient warrior-to-be who wants to follow in the footsteps of his great cousin. If you’ve seen, say, two action movies in your lifetime then you know his fate.
Patroclus’s presence commits the sin of making Achilles human. I doubt Pitt’s performance is what Homer would have had in mind, or even David Benioff’s screenplay, but even when Achilles looks most like the Achilles we’ve all read about in English class, Pitt fails to deliver on the emotionally heavy scenes, such as the one where he mourns the death of a certain character.
Another cliché that makes “Troy” more of a basic action movie than the adventure I had hoped for, is the resistance of Hector’s wife, Andromache (Saffron Burrows). More than once she begs for him to stay and help raise their infant child when he insists that he must fight for Troy. Surely she must have known when she married the highest general in Troy that his job description entails fighting wars and defending the country. Along with Helen and Hector’s cousin Briseis (Rose Byrne), whom has a love affair with his greatest enemy, Achilles, the female characters have little credibility and at no time does the story try to justify their means. They do serve one purpose though, to look frightened when something bad is about to happen.
My final opinion of "Troy" is hard to describe in words.. I liked much of it but was disappointed when it mattered most. It is good because a $200 million budget says so (choreography, special effects, costumes), but it lacks in the fundamental departments. Never mind that the transition from story to movie is hardly faithful (for starters the Trojan War lasts three weeks instead of 10 years), it’s just not that exciting. “Troy” has its moments and the female audience will dig the high amounts of male skin including Pitt’s naked rear and the reoccurring wind that continually blows open the cloaks of Achilles, Hector and Paris, but it's not quite the epic it promises to be.