David Benioff (Novel: The Illiad by Homer)
Brian Cox, Brad Pitt, Brendan Gleeson, Diane Kruger, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Sean Bean, Julie Christie, Peter O’Toole
R (For graphic violence and some sexuality/nudity)
Some men seek to find their place in history. Others search only for peace, love and happiness.
Based on Homer’s classic epic The Illiad , Troy tells many stories simultaneously. King Agamemnon (Brian Cox) seeks to conquer all of the Peloponnesian states and unify them under one banner. His weapon in this battle is Achilles (Brad Pitt) whose strength and battle prowess have won over many armies but never the king, who uses him only for his purposes.
Making matters worse, Greece’s biggest rival is the kingdom of Troy across the sea in modern-day Turkey. Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) brokers a deal with princely brothers Hector (Eric Bana) and Paris (Orlando Bloom) that will bring the Trojans and the Greeks peace. The trouble is that Paris falls in love with Menelaus’ daughter Helen (Diane Kruger) and they set sail together secretly to Troy where Menelaus loss leads to war between the two kingdoms.
Troy is a complex story when in book form but screenwriter David Benioff adapts Homer’s epic into a superficially complex tale of love, revenge and self-discovery that only serves to glorify the battle strategies of these fierce opponents. Benioff keeps many of the core plots in place but simplifies them for modern audience consumption with dialogue more appropriate for dinner theater.
Director Wolfgang Petersen who claimed international acclaim with his naval epic Das Boot has churned out one lackluster film after another. Troy is no exception. The film is good for many of its concepts but fails to really capture the narratives desperation. The final 30-minute assault on the city of Troy tries to wrap the story up too fast after two hours of laborious build up. We find ourselves waiting patiently for exciting drama but it flies by so fast that we wonder if we saw what we wanted to see or not.
Only the performances of the film truly make up for any screenwriting mishaps. Cox plays Agamemnon with plenty of over-the-top evilness while keeping him accessible. Pitt is characteristically good as the cocky Achilles. Bana is fantastic as the noble Prince Hector and Sean Bean does a serviceable job as the soon-to-be travel-weary Odysseus.
Bean’s Lord of the Rings co-star Bloom gives the film’s worst performance. Bloom’s youthful love feels more paper-thin than his role in Pirates of the Caribbean. He never makes the audience care whether his sniveling, whining Paris lives or dies and certainly don’t find him a very good fire-starter. Likewise, the face that launched a thousand ships finds that beauty does not always assist performance. Kruger’s Helen is more one-dimensional than any character in the film.
Two of screen’s legendary talents, Julie Christie and Peter O’Toole also appear in Troy. Christie’s role is very limited, appearing only in cameo as Achilles’ mother Thetis. Christie is luminous in her brief screen time but gives us nothing incredibly memorable. O’Toole on the other hand has one of the film’s larger roles. He plays Trojan King Priam. His performance is deep, yet superficial. You find him a loving father and passionate King but never believe him to be more than a tragic figure. He has some of the film’s most delicious scenes but makes little more of them than to enunciate and already plain concept.
Troy takes liberties with its story. Relying heavily on the mass audience’s inability to reason, it forces explanatory words into conversations where the characters’ glances and demeanor could tell so much more. The film is epic poetry for the inexperienced viewer. Instead of making this a rich and deep motion picture, Benioff and Petersen rely on gloss and violence to tell a story that has more core meaning than many in ancient history. Audiences will certainly enjoy the impressive battle sequences featuring unique and seldom-seen attack styles but will leave feeling as if they saw a more stylized version of Braveheart with fewer revisions of history and much better performances.
May 31, 2004