Posted by Aaron West, 5/16/04
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Starring Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Brian Cox, Peter O'Toole, Brendan Gleeson, Rose Byrne
Move over teen flicks, superhero flicks, and heist flicks. The historical epic has arrived, once again, and is now the major craze among filmmakers and moviegoers alike. A-list actors have shed their sunglasses and designer clothes in favor of bronze helmets and short dresses. Hollywood promises bigger, longer, and, did I say bigger, productions, with elaborate, large-scale action sequences, thousands upon thousands of cut-and-pasted digital objects, and a seemingly unlimited supply of sand. David Lean and Cecille DeMille would be pleased! Well, maybe not.
Troy, in case you didn't know, is Wolfgang Petersen's (Das Boot, The Perfect Storm) visualization of Homer's epic poem, The Iliad. Paris, prince of Troy, falls for Helen (Diane Kruger) of Sparta and lures her away from husband Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) and to his homeland Troy. Menelaus convinces his ambitious, warmongering father Agamemnon to launch a massive attack on Troy. A fleet of one thousand ships sail to Troy, led by Achilles (Brad Pitt), otherwise known as "greatest warrior in the world", along with his mighty myrmidon.
Achilles is the heroic epic version of the modern rock star, complete with the temper tantrums, the orgies, the chronic nakedness, and the punk rock rejection of authority. Agamemnon tolerates his obstinance simply because Achilles is the greatest living warrior, runs really fast, and possesses a signature battle move that resembles a Jordan dunk. The Grecian army loves him, chants his name, and does everything to decorate him short of doing "the wave" between innings. Achilles is the Greek golden boy, and his presence ensures Agamemnon a victory over Troy.
Many, including myself, questioned whether Pitt would be able to capture the heroism of Achilles. I consider Pitt to be a fine actor with the right material (Snatch, Fight Club, Twelve Monkeys), but absolutely horrible with the wrong material (Meet Joe Black, The Mexican, Cool World). I figured he would do fine with getting into character, but would struggle with the physical aspects. As it turns out, I had it backwards. Pitt is up to the task during the intense battle sequences, with some impressive choreography, but is the definition of wooden when delivering his lines. To make matters worse, the written dialog is as bad, if not worse than his delivery, making it seem like he's playing the part of the Achilles Heel.
Orlando Bloom plays the squirrelly, but suave Prince Paris (not the French city or Hilton heiress). He's a lover, not a fighter. While he is more than willing to give the appearance of standing up for what he believes in, most of the time he lacks the constitution in order to follow through. Bloom plays this aspect of the character well, since cowardice is what the character calls for. Only, like Pitt, he proves (yet again) that he is among the worst when it comes to delivering spoken dialog. Also like Pitt, he has little to work with dialog-wise, but sometimes bad actors draw extra attention to bad dialog - Pitt and Bloom take the cake in Troy.
One of the many problems with this film is its mistaken identity. The film bolts out of the gates, giving brief introductions to the major characters (except the hero), and accelerates the conflict between the warring parties so that before you know it, Brad Pitt and his goons are slashing people on the beach and desecrating temples. The first half is almost completely devoid of character conflict, but seems to focus more on establishing the "coolness" of all parties involved. Some of the poses are so obvious that they almost incite MST3K comments and plenty of laughter from the audience that Petersen most definitely didn't intend. It doesn't help that the better performances aren't given much screen time until after the Spartan triremes are parked on the Trojan beach.
Speaking of better performances, Eric Bana (Hulk, Black Hawk Down) gives one. His Hector also happens to be the most textured character of the entire lot. He fights out of duty and loyalty to his people, however he is also a family man with a loving wife and child. This strengthens his conviction and resolve, and gives Bana the opportunity to stand out among all the lead performers.
The supporting performances of Sean Bean, Rose Byrne and Peter O'Toole are all exceptional. They carry the film during the second half, when some decent character conflict finally finds a home. We begin to care for the characters (mostly the Trojans) somewhat, which makes the later battle scenes more interesting. Even Brad Pitt is slightly better as he plays off (and with) Rose Byrne, whose Briseis is the most memorable Trojan characters, next to Bana's Hector.
Now we come to Peter O'Toole, whose performance in Lawrence of Arabia is arguably one of the better historical epic performances of all time. No doubt that Petersen wanted to steal some of David Lean's thunder by casting O'Toole as Priam, King of Troy. A couple of years ago when O'Toole was offered an Honorary Academy Award, he initially declined, claiming he was "still in the game" and would like to "win the lovely bugger outright." He proves this assertion as correct with his performance as Priam, and I would go so far as calling the performance Oscar caliber. Unfortunately, Troy is not the type of film to be rewarded, but I would definitely keep an eye on him during the next few years.
When one thinks "epic", they usually think of high production values, long running times, rousing scores and highly superior technical details. To great surprise, Troy disappoints on all but one of those, the long running time. The cinematography is nothing to write home about, with the only visually interesting elements being some matte paintings and nice architecture. The visual effects are heavy, but in many cases obvious, and at times resemble graphics from a popular video games. The most disappointing aspect without a doubt has to be the score. Interestingly enough, Gabriel Yared had already written a score that was abandoned shortly before the film's release. James Horner stepped in with some mediocre compositions and Lisa Gerrard-ish (Gladiator, Man on Fire) sounding solo ripoffs. Yared's score is available in its entirety from his website, and upon listening to it, you have to wonder what Petersen was thinking. Perhaps they had a personal dispute, which is the only possibly explanation I can imagine for him trashing such tremendous work.
The movie turns around some during the second half, partly due to the aforementioned supporting performances and the character conflict, but primarily the legendary source material. There is a reason Homer's work has lasted these thousands of years. The Iliad is quite simply a great story, if difficult for many to consume. This, however, just adds to the overall disappointment, as Troy as a film will serve future generations as an entertaining Cliff's Note rather than the classic historical epic it could have been.