Troy (2004) / Adventure-War
MPAA Rated: R for graphic violence, sexuality and nudity
Running Time: 163 min.
Cast: Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Brian Cox, Peter O'Toole, Rose Byrne, Diane Kruger, Sean Bean, Brendan Gleeson, Saffron Burrows, Garrett Hedlund
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Screenplay: David Benioff (based on Homer's epic poem, "The Iliad")
Review published May 15, 2004
Call it Homer's "Iliad" with Hollywood-ized interpolations, in this mega-budgeted and often magnificently realized epic by Wolfgang Petersen (Air Force One, The Perfect Storm). With a budget of approximately $185 million, it's one of the most expensive films ever made, and it shows in every facet of the production, from the lavish sets and costumes, beautifully rendered special effects, and thousands of movie extras. It's a timeless tale, well worth being made into a grand film, and with an impressive cast and Petersen's competent skills, Troy does loosely recreate the scope and vision of Homer's original poem with one near fatal exception -- the dialogue stinks.
The setting in 1193 BC, when a Trojan prince named Paris (Bloom, The Lord of the Rings) bedded and stole away the beautiful Spartan queen, Helen (Kruger). Outraged, Spartan king Menelaus (Gleeson, Gangs of New York) vows to retrieve her back at any cost, forming an alliance with his brother, Agamemnon (Cox, X2), the power-hungry king of newly united Mycenae. 50,000 Greek soldiers travel by ship to lay siege to Troy, among them the fabled mighty warrior Achilles (Pitt, Spy Game), a rogue spirit who thirsts for fame while his loyalty to Greece is always in question. Sacking Troy won't be easy, as it lays well-ensconced behind impenetrable walls, with an army of fine fighters led by the equally skilled Trojan prince, Hector (Bana, The Hulk).
As someone who has read Homer's "The Iliad" several times while pursuing my degree in Classics, I'll have to warn some of you lazy students out there not to watch this movie as a way to skip having to read the lengthy epic poem. The main backbone of the film and the poem are basically the same, but creative license is taken in so many ways, one can only view Troy as inspired by, rather than an adaptation of, Homer's great masterwork. The most notable alteration comes from the excising of the Gods, who play a very pivotal role in Homer's depiction of the events. Petersen saw their inclusion as an unnecessary distraction, so they are referred to, but never shown. Instead, the amazing feats are carried out because the mortals are drawn to be larger than life, god-like in their abilities and powers. In addition, there are minor characters who are fleshed out more and some significantly less, while the war itself, which took ten years, merely takes weeks here, concentrating more on Achilles and Hector, while the rest of the characters are set up merely to support their stories. There is also closure to the war that wasn't provided in "The Iliad", while some characters who definitely survived the war, end up getting killed off for dramatic effect.
Technically speaking, Troy is a marvel of sight and sound. From the cinematography to the costumes, everything is rich, making this a film worthy of a look if just to see a fantastical recreation of an idealized Ancient Greece. This is a big-time production all of the way, the very embodiment of epic filmmaking that is beyond storytelling -- it is meant to dazzle and amaze. On that scale, Petersen succeeds in making the siege of Troy feel like a cataclysmic event, and the larger-than-life staging gives everything the weight worthy of a story of this magnitude. The rousing score by James Horner (Titanic, Braveheart) perfectly accentuates each scene, and with a story proven to have stood resonant over the ages, this would seem a can't miss classic.
Sadly, the level of the writing by 25th Hour's David Benioff is not of the stuff befitting a legend. True, this is an oft-told and old-fashioned tale, and by today's standards, Homer's writing style might seem primitive, but that's no excuse for some of the shoddiest, most trite lines heard in a movie of this type. Everything is kept at a very basic level, with dialogue and confrontations that aren't much better than that found while watching a WWE Main Event. I literally winced at some of the laughable lines like "I want to place two coins on his eyes for the boatman", "Immortality! Take it, it's yours!", "Troy is the mother of us all! Fight for her!" or when Achilles rides up to the walls of Troy shouting, "HECTORRRRRRR!!" Moments like this should be gripping -- instead, they elicit little more than a smirk. No poetry, no pith, no poignancy and no depth -- just boring comic-book angst and cartoonish characterizations.
Troy does manage to be worthwhile viewing for fans of the main players, who are literally within centimeters from showing full frontal nudity in many scenes. There's also a good deal of violent confrontations, with some of them being riveting given the context of the situations at the time. It's a beautiful looking film, so vibrant in scope and appeal that it does manage to provide solid escapist fare for its almost three-hour duration. A great film had almost been in the making, if only the writing hadn't ultimately proven to be the Achilles heel.
©2004 Vince Leo