War is Hades,
but we still love watching it on film. Our enjoyment can
only be increased when that war is chock full of some of
Hollywood's upcoming best and brightest, led by a man who
strides the screen like the demigod he finally plays, Brad
You might think
I was leading up to some ironic statement there, but no,
Troy really does deliver most of what it promises.
Writer David Benioff may skimp on the mythic in his re-telling
of The Trojan War, but he lays out plenty of action and
occasionally a surprising amount of depth. Nor is director
Wolfgang Peterson a slouch when it comes to bringing that
action to life. When it comes to depth, he seems to lean
a bit toward melodrama, but never for very long. It's kind
of hard to avoid with all those British accents anyway.
Based on the
classic poem by a blind bard known to history as Homer,
Benioff's script sets up the conflicts with a modern eye.
Where Homer dove right into the war, the screenwriter takes
time to bluntly introduce a philosophical musing that forms
the film's heart. What good is living if you are not remembered
afterward? Peterson sets that question against spare landscapes
and gently lapping waves, sort of like a Greek Deep Thoughts.
But don't worry; this won't make your head hurt unless you
afterward, we see the personality clash between conqueror
King Agamemnon (Brian Cox) and the greatest warrior of the
age, Achilles (Pitt). All the golden boy knows is killing,
and he's incredibly good at it. However, he resents Agamemnon
for pitting armies against each other without taking part
in the battles himself.
roused from the aftermath of an Achilles sandwich, he sneers
at the big fat Greek monarch, "Imagine if a King did his
own fighting." It would be easy to give the sentiment modern
resonance, but Troy is too smart to give answers
that simple. Achilles may fumblingly wish for peace, but
he also wants the immortality that being a warrior will
give him - he intends to be remembered for thousands of
In another part
of Greece, Trojan envoys cause trouble when Paris (Orlando
Bloom) falls in love with another king's wife, Helen (Diane
Kruger). Paris' brother Hector (Eric Bana) knows kidnapping
the beauty, however willingly, makes war inevitable, and
family loyalty conflicts with his duty to his city-state.
inevitable, because Troy is the last city standing in Agamemnon's
way toward a completely unified Greece. Any excuse he can
find, be it stolen bride or Walls of Mass Construction,
will drive him toward battle. If, of course, Achilles can
be convinced to join him.
And so begins
a siege that in literature lasted ten years, but the film
condenses to much less than that. Yet the cleverness of
Benioff's script allows you to see how fact could easily
have passed into larger legend, especially in the figure
of Achilles. Gods never make an appearance, but their absence
does not quite make the mere mortals look dumb for believing
in them. Even the fabled Trojan Horse gets clever foreshadowing,
and when it finally appears, what could have been ridiculous
only makes our hearts sink in our mouths.
is naked in his ambition, almost everyone else is painted
with greater shades. Odysseus (Sean Bean) believes a unified
Greece outweighs the price of it being under a boor like
Agamemnon. The King of Troy, Priam (Peter O'Toole) loves
his country, and knows his son Paris to be a fool, but accepts
Helen anyway, though it means the destruction of everything.
As for the brothers Hector and Paris, theirs is a relationship
fraught with tragedy, but played out beautifully and believably.
(Finally, American audiences will understand why directors
keep casting Bana - this is his most nuanced role since
goes on between glory and survival throughout the film,
and purists may be a bit upset. So might Bloom's fans be,
because Paris is pretty much an ineffectual pretty boy.
It's a canny use of an actor's rapidly ascendant reputation,
even more jarring that in the film, Helen is supportive
of what almost every other character would consider cowardice.
She launches a thousand ships; he dies a thousand deaths.
has some of the sensibilities of an old-fashioned epic,
though it does revolve around Achilles. Pitt carves a new
niche as a thinking man's action hero. Impossibly chiseled
and handsome, his performance borders on stylization, but
effectively. Even the way he moves serves as a plot point.
Achilles may not be the largest man on the battlefield (damn
Pitt and his perfect proportions), but Peterson believably
frames him as the most dangerous. Only Hector has a shot
at beating Achilles, and even then only if he hulks out.
and often absorbing, Troy does still suffer from
some of its director's weaknesses. A few inexplicable slow
motion moments work their way in. Like The Perfect Storm,
the film also feels just a bit too long, though it's hard
to pinpoint exactly why.
let that stop you, because it's still a good action film
with a brain.
Fanboy Note: Greek Warrior Ajax is a rare speaking
role for Tyler Mane, the guy who played Sabretooth in X-Men
Also, for another more naturalistic take
on the history of The Trojan War, check out Eric Shanower's
comic series Age