Troy Review

by Mark R. Leeper (markrleeper AT yahoo DOT com)
May 25th, 2004

    (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

    CAPSULE: This is a frequently flawed film, but for
    fans of classical adventures it is worth seeing
    anyway. This is probably the version of the "Iliad" story that will stick with you. TROY breathes life into Homer's story and makes the characters seem
    like real humans. Brad Pitt stars as the noble
    Achilles and does a reasonable job. Rating:
    low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

You probably have heard some negative things about the film TROY. They are mostly true. The characters are not well developed. You have probably heard that the filmmakers took this giant work of ancient literature and turned it into an action film with lots of CGI special effects. Why would you want to see that? Well, because they took this giant work of ancient literature and turned it into an action film with lots of CGI special effects. I read THE ILIAD more or less under protest. It was in verse yet. Characters like Achilles were like chess pieces. Now Achilles was in tent sulking. Now Achilles was angry on the battlefield. In verse you gave very little thought to Achilles as a human rather than this character who might as well be made of marble. He was one-dimensional. One could say that in TROY, Brad Pitt plays Achilles perhaps a little flat. But flat is two-dimensional and two dimensions is a whole lot more than one.

When I read about the formidable walls of Troy, I will now have a picture in my mind of what those steep and impregnable walls looked like. I will tell you very frankly that beforehand I did not want to see noble Achilles played by pretty Brad Pitt. Pitt did not seem formidable. Now I have seen Achilles as played by Brad Pitt and I wouldn't want to fight him. I had previously seen two different films called HELEN OF TROY. Yes, the story of Troy was all there in each case. But the images of those films have faded from my memory very quickly. They were just not very engaging films. TROY is going to be the version of the story of the siege of that city that I will probably remember. This is the version with the really impressive images. Sure, many of those images were create in a computer. But that is not how I am going to remember them. If this was not a story from classical literature I might not remember it. But this is the film that got to Homer's ILIAD first with really impressive images and with reasonably human characters who are not made out of marble. I can almost guarantee you that whenever you run into the story of the siege of Troy or the Trojan Horse, this film is what will come to your mind.

The film opens with Agamemnon (Brian Cox, as always delightfully slimy) conquering Thessaly, the last kingdom of Greece he does not rule. To make the conquest he must call upon his greatest hero (also something of a prima donna) Achilles. What follows bodes not well for the rest of the film. Once Achilles is found, lazily sleeping late in his tent while the battle was forming, he is given the job of defeating a giant brute of a man who is the champion of the Thessalians. Guess who wins. Soon the story is back on track as the Trojan Paris (Orlando Bloom) steals Helen (Diane Kruger) from her Greek king husband Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson). He takes Helen to Troy. This gives Agamemnon the excuse to bring an army of thousands of men to try to take the walled city. We are very quickly into the material of Homer's ILIAD. Much too quickly actually, since that should take place in the tenth year of the war, not the first. However, since there are no accounts of the first ten years of the war as far as I know, that material is easily dispensed with. The film fairly accurately follows the story of THE ILIAD but without the presence of corporeal gods. When THE ILIAD runs out, it continues with the story of the fall of Troy. (Incidentally, it is a common error to believe that the story of the Trojan Horse and the fall of Troy is told in THE ILIAD. Actually there may be a reference or two, but THE ILIAD ends before that incident. That story and the subsequent fall of Troy is told elsewhere, most notably THE AENEID.) The film does not noticeably take sides in the war, but King Priam of Troy (Peter O'Toole at age 72) comes off considerably better than does Greek King Agamemnon. However, most of the film is about Achilles who ironically seems to combine in a single personality childishness, manhood, and high nobility. The Trojans have their own noble hero in Hector (Eric Bana), the loyal brother of Paris. The wily Odysseus is played by Sean Bean well enough to make the viewer wish that director Wolfgang Petersen would now feature Bean in an adaptation of THE ODYSSEY.

Complaints? I do not think that the walled city of Troy could have been as big as it is portrayed. I visited the assumed site near Canakkale, Turkey, and it just did not seem that big. One sees a fair amount of nudity in the film, though always with the "naughty bits" hidden. Still, it seemed more than the film needed. Petersen borrows a touch from Akira Kurosawa's RAN by having some of the battle scenes be nearly silent with overlaid music. The score is by James Horner. There are a lot of people in this film who just did not look Greek or Trojan, but that seems to be the approach. These people are supposed to look and act a lot like the viewer or people the viewer knows. Petersen fleshes out Homer's characters, giving them recognizable personalities and makes them understandable and believable to a modern audience. I rate TROY a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Mark R. Leeper
[email protected]
Copyright 2004 Mark R. Leeper

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