Director(s): Wolfgang Petersen
Writer(s): David Benioff
Reviewed by: Ian Evans
Release Date(s)May 14, 2004 - Wide
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Homer’s The Iliad is an epic poem that has inspired us for thousands of years. Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy will probably be forgotten by the fall.
For those of you who always found Greek myths to be your Achilles heel in school, the story of Troy centers on an epic war fought over Helen, the woman whose face could launch a thousand ships.
During celebrations proclaiming the new peace between Sparta and Troy, King Menelaus of Sparta (Brendan Gleeson) discovers that his young wife, Helen, has spirited off in the night with the Trojan prince named Paris (Orlando Bloom), an impetuous young lad who spends more time on his hair than his new flame.
When Paris reveals that Helen (Diane Kruger) is on their ship, his older brother Hector (Eric Bana) wants to send her back immediately but realizes soon enough that his dimwit brother has set into motion a force that could mean the downfall of their society.
That force, of course, is the newly unified Greek army of King Agamemnon of Mycenae (Brian Cox), who has managed to expand his control over the previous warring kingdoms of Greece. With the aid of allies like Odysseus, King of Ithaca (Sean Bean), and begrudging and sometimes withheld assistance from the area’s top warrior, Achilles (Brad Pitt), Agamemnon sets sail to aid his brother’s honor and expand his empire.
The fleet of a thousand ships is made possible by computer-generated imagery and this same CGI also provides the 100,000 warriors who face each other on the beaches of Troy. All of this technology can produce a remarkable fighting force on screen, but they can’t help in the area of passion.
Troy sometimes has the feel of a very, very expensive TV movie. Orlando Bloom’s Paris, the lusty fool who started this all, has the appearance and behavior of someone who would appear on Trojan teens’ lunchboxes or be a finalist on Trojan Idol. Eric Bana’s Hector is a more rounded character, a family man who is an experienced warrior. He knows when a fight is worth fighting and knows that there is no glory and excitement in the limbless bodies that will litter the battlefield because of his brother’s libido. Their father, King Priam (Peter O’Toole), tells Paris that “I’ve fought many wars in my time. Some I’ve fought for land, some for power, some for glory. I suppose fighting for love makes more sense than all the rest.” Hector may not agree wholeheartedly with that appraisal, but he will fight for the kingdom and people that he loves.
Hector’s equal on the battlefield is Achilles, who leads the feared fighting unit, the Myrmidons. Brad Pitt’s Achilles has the buffed up muscles of Greece’s most feared fighter, but the inner turmoil he faces belongs on a Dr. Phil show, not in the head of a heroic figure from mythology. In The Iliad, Achilles is the son of the mortal Peleus and the nymph Thetis, but screenwriter David Benioff has the gods taking a backseat in this story. Apollo, Poseidon and Zeus were popping up in Greek myths all the time, but this film has some of the Greeks and Trojans questioning their existence.
Benioff could use the assistance of the gods; perhaps they could turn his leaden speeches into gold. The one time when the film’s dialogue clicks is when O’Toole and Pitt share an emotional scene in the Greek camp. You can feel the pain and loss of O’Toole’s Priam and when Pitt says, “You’re a far better king than the one who leads this army”, you believe that he means it.
Since we’re dealing in ancient hand-to-hand combat, the effects and talents of actors like Pitt, Bana and Bean could have been used to show the battles in proper historical context, with the correct weapons and fighting techniques. However, when 99% of your army is being spit out of a Mac, the battles tend to be a blur of speed and quick shots to the next part of the battlefield. It’s Greek mythology as shot by MTV.
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